Hidden ID at Savignano sul Rubicone, Italy

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My first solo exhibition in Italy will open next week at Savignano sul Rubicone. It will be in conjunction with SI Fest Off, a festival of photography in its 26th edition, and is related to this year’s theme of the festival: Dialectic Strategies.

Hidden ID is a series of pinhole images that juxtapose public identity to interior privacy through using the metaphor of the archive as a substitution for the construction of the self. The images are based on a hybrid pinhole capture with in-camera photogram elements.  Continue reading

The Afghan Girl and what does photoshop – and the Impressionists – have to do with it?

national-geographic-100-best-pictures-coverYou already know this photo – it is the legendary portrait titled “Afghan Girl” that appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985 and then went on to become one of the most iconic pictures of all times. No wonder: the resolute gaze of the girl, in such dire circumstances, the unusual color of her eyes are indeed striking. What is also impactful but less  consciously recognizable is the color contrast of the saturated green and red that appeal subconsciously. And if you are a photography enthusiast, you also know the name of the photographer, Steve McCurry, popularly famous for shooting the last roll of Kodachrome ever produced, too. He was given that honor by Kodak because that film, noted for its exceptional saturated colors, was his signature film.  And you perhaps know that his signature style was striking human figures (most often shot in third-world countries) in traditional environments in saturated colors. Continue reading

Alec Soth and the issue of social class

Alec Soth at UTA, in the shadow of his presentation. On the screen: a note with the dreams of his subjects

Alec Soth at UTA, in the shadow of his presentation. On the screen: a note with the dreams of his subjects


Last night, UTArlington and Arlington Camera hosted a discussion of the noted documentary photographer (and Magnum member) Alec Soth with the curator who gave him the first big push of public recognition, Anne Tucker of the Museum of Fine Art, Houston. These public conversations are always useful. It’s true that most probably the information they reveal can be easily found elsewhere. But there are always revelations that happen only in a face-to-face setting.

That’s the reason I used this particular image as an illustration for my post: Alec in the shadow and, on the screen, a note scribbled with the personal dreams of the people he has photographed. It is an approach he uses to get closer to his subjects and allow them to show something of themselves and make it visible in the portrait.

Continue reading

The family pictures inheritance

My grandfather in 1940. Photograph by Kiro of Smardan

This is a portrait of my grandfather, taken while he was doing his military service in 1940 Bulgaria (not part of the Axis yet). I discovered it last summer while perusing the stack of family photos at my parents’ house.

And it was one of the delights of my summer. I saw, in this picture, something in him I had not known but was so excited to discover it.  I saw how he felt in that particular moment of his life and some truths he never told me; things I would’ve discussed with him if only he were around today.  This picture gave me back a great piece of my own personal puzzle that I didn’t know existed but am so glad I found.

So, what could I do with this treasure? I plundered it from my parents’ collection without telling them, or my sister. My only justification was that it was just temporary and I would scan it and print it in large format and give them copies. Continue reading

Frida Kahlo: Her Photos

Book cover of Frida Kahlo: Her Photos. The cover image is of Frida at age 20, taken by her father

If perusing someone’s personal library is a way to understand their inner world, browsing the photo archive of one of 20th century’s most important artistic figures is a bonanza for understanding the visual world from which their art came. Surprisingly enough, we didn’t have access privileges to Frida Kahlo’s visual archive until recently. The book Frida Kahlo: Her Photos  shows it for the first time. Divided in several sections (“Mother”, “Father”, “Casa Azul”, “The Broken Body”, “Political Action”, etc), it encompasses family pictures, photographs taken of her, by her, given to her. For someone who so carefully crafted her image in so many ways, who made herself into a character of a larger story that is only partially contained in her art, the archive is an indispensable tool for understanding Frida as a work of art herself. Continue reading

Resolana Music Festival

Resolana is a community-based nonprofit organization working to educate and empower incarcerated women  in the Dallas County Jail so that they spend their time in custody productively, building a foundation for change and preparing for their return to society.

Resolana will hold its second annual Westside Music Festival to share its effort with the community and to raise funds to continue its work. Besides great music, of course, the festival will feature creative activities that are a staple of its programming for the women in jail: yoga, doll making, art and many others. There will be a silent auction as well. Continue reading

Tips for great portraits

Breaking all "rules for great portraits", this is one of my favorite pictures from the Third Eye Workshop, done by a 15-year old Roma participant

Blogs with photo tips on taking great portraits really annoy me. And every informational photography website has them, especially those dedicated to selling cameras and photographic gear. It’s clear that their canned advice is mostly about marketing. Even if they are not selling anything directly through those tips, they steer your photographic thinking in the direction of technicalities and gear instead of developing your vision as a photographer. And they help perpetuate clichés.

Does that mean that I don’t read them? I often do. Impulsively – out of curiosity to see if there is something new or unexpected there – but I don’t find anything revealing, every time. And the checklist form in which these tips are doled out is just as useful as a hypotetical checklist of “tips for great cooking” could be, starting with a recommendation to saute some onion. Well, great cuisine is not about making sure you start with onion. Continue reading

Smiles in portraits? That’s so cliché!

We automatically associate the snap of the shutter button with “Say cheese!” Smiling in a portrait is taken for granted; even more, it’s required. Just look at all the pictures uploaded on social media and you’ll recognize what we now call the “facebook picture” genre: people looking into the camera with an unabashed, full-fledged display of happiness. They feel obliged to smile even on their passport pictures, to the point that the State Department currently forbids smiles in passports as they distort features and create difficulties for facial recognition software.

But it wasn’t always this way. And not because people had just not discovered the smile yet. It’s rather that our idea of portrait photography has changed – and I’d add, our idea of self has changed, too. Continue reading

Frida Kahlo: the Nickolas Muray Portraits at PDNB Gallery in Dallas

Nickolas Muray (1938). Frida and Diego with Gas Mask. PDNB Gallery

It’s not an exaggeration to say that we owe the popular image of Frida Kahlo to the photographs of her as much as to her own paintings.  Her relationship with photography is so strong one might wonder why she didn’t embrace it as her own art. The daughter of a photographer, one of her most intriguing early images is in a family portrait, dressed as the son her father craved. Tina Modotti, Manuel and Lola Álvarez Bravo were three big-name photographers within her circle of friends as well as influential artists who put in motion the post-revolutionary Mexican cultural renaissance.  And let’s not forget the powerful role photography played in the Mexican social and political upheavals of the early 20th century.

But the connection here is not just Frida’s friendships with photographers and the power of photography in society. The striking correspondence of her paintings of herself and the pictures others took of her just invites us to look closer and to use one in order to understand the other better. There is definitely a dialogue between her self portraits and her photographic portraits that’s worth exploring and enjoying. Continue reading

Living in the past

These portraits, which a friend of mine defined as “make-believe, dress-up”, were made during events in which local towns “live in the past” – reenactments, heritage festivals and living history days. But it seemed to me that children are actually more sincere in those portraits. They do have their own dress up plays, but once they are “in costume”, they do and feel the same way children of times past did and felt.

Halloween Portraits in Dallas

It’s that time of the year again, Halloween! when people get to dress up in a different persona for a day, try out being something else and have unrestricted, unpenalized fun. While portraits are – supposedly – a truthful reflection of a person, Halloween portraits are an imaginative play with that idea, reflecting something totally made up or perhaps the opposite: the real, hidden self 🙂 The European tradition has the Carnival for that, and America has Halloween. Everybody needs an occasion to turn themselves creatively upside down.

We are lucky here in Dallas that the Halloween dress-up festivities are so popular and creative and I love taking advantage of that. Halloween portraits are my favorite to do. Here is a brief list of locations and occasions for them: Continue reading

Third Eye Workshops. Photography for marginalized kids

Well, If you remember my previous post when I was dreaming about the potential of photography to influence people’s lives and promote social change, and with my annual pilgrimage to Europe imminent, I started working to make it come true.

My focus was on Roma (Gypsy) kids, living in their often isolated, always marginalized communities in the Bulgarian countryside and most of the cities. Even though Bulgaria is now part of the European Union and has long been part of the globalized world, Gypsies have always experienced rejection from the mainstream society. Kids don’t have the social and educational opportunities available to other children and often they don’t even know what life looks like for the rest of their peers. On the other hand, their culture, traditions and point of view is ignored in the rest of the country, making it a cultural enclave, a community within a broader society with very few points of contact and interaction among them. This social problem gave me the inspiration for a workshop that would empower Gypsy kids by giving them the tools and the opportunity of self expression and the joy of being heard by others.

I organized and led two photography workshops for kids and teenagers in marginalized Roma communities in the towns of Shumen (Northeastern Bulgaria) and Kyustendil (Southwest). I called them “Third Eye” to honor the concept of the third eye as a symbol of enlightenment in the Indian tradition, where Gypsies come from, and to remind us all of the power of photography to capture the elusive.

The workshops happened through the enthusiastic support of many people who donated cameras, contributed ideas and smiles and generally helped put this collective creative engine into action. Many people got interested in the workshops and I’d love to thank them all for everything. I myself was surprised and excited by the great pictures kids produced. Our work ended with an exhibit in Sofia and we plan do it again next year, bigger and better organized and to maybe publish a book with the kids’ photography.

Here is a sample (see all photos on the project’s website, Treto Oko):

I chose this picture as the exhibit’s opening image because it’s symbolic while simple and beautiful at the same time. The photographer is Orhan (12 years old) and the model is Tony, who just finished 6th grade with excellent grades. Tony, or it could be any boy from his neighborhood in Shumen, is facing a closed door; behind that door there is everything we expect from the future, but we don’t really know what it is. We just need to open the door. Tony is looking down, but it’s not because of despair or hopelessness. He is just thinking about how to open it. That’s his interpretation. Continue reading