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Artist of the Week — Stanislava Georgieva

March 5, 2012 by · No comments

An Interview with Bulgarian-born photographer and founder of Bulgarian Artists in America Stanislava Georgieva by Jasmina Tacheva

Stanislava Georgieva

How did you decide to move to America?

I won a green card 11 years ago and I’ve been living here for ten years now. At that time I was studying Art History at the Bulgarian National Academy of Arts in Sofia, I completed the first year, dropped out and came to New York City.

ugusto, 98 year old man, likes to flirt,  typical for latino men
Photo: Аugusto, 98-year-old man, likes to flirt,
typical for latino men (From “The Valley of Longevity: nature and peace”,
Location: Banana Republic – Vilcabamba, Ecuador)

What made you choose photography over art history when you came here?

As far back as the time when I was applying to high schools after seventh grade, I had wanted to study photography, but in Bulgaria there are hardly any schools for this, so when I came here and saw the many places for studying photography and the many opportunities, I didn’t hesitate. I really discovered my true self through photography.

Photo: Nomads – Nick N.

Could you tell us a bit more about your projects? Do you remember your first one?

My first major project was a shoot of young artistic gymnasts in New Jersey. It was very exciting, a lot of people liked it. After that I shot other projects – I had one that won several awards – it’s about Bulgarian men in the New York area who are single, live alone and work primarily in the financial industry. It’s a series of diptych portraits that centers on the life of the young bachelors in New York City on the one hand and the life of the immigrants on the other.

You also have a project featuring facades of strip clubs in different American cities. What provoked you to initiate it?

I went to Syracuse in the summer of 2009 with the idea to start shooting a project on something related to America, something that’s distinct and specific about the country, and we were impressed by the local culture. My friends took me to an area known for its strip clubs and I began to photograph their facades.

Photo: From “Theaters of Prey”

It occured to me that this could really become a big project – to shoot strip clubs across America with the idea to publish a book one day. I even had a solo exhibition at the School of Visual Arts in NYC just before I graduated. I’ve traveled to a bunch of US states so far – my last photographs of strip clubs are from Kansas – it was very interesting there.

Who am I? Where am I? (From
Photo: Who am I? Where am I? (From “My Unfamiliar Face to You”, 2009)

One of your projects is made into a book. Can you tell us more about it?

This is a very personal project. I photographed a girl I used to live with. She’s actually my cousin’s wife and it turned out that not only did the two of us look quite alike visually, but also that in a way we shared common life experiences. I took a few pictures of her, of her routine at home, at work. I paid attention to the existential and social peculiarities of her routine as a woman and as an immigrant. I used them to create an image of myself, a self-portrait.

Somewhere in the Wine Country
Photo: From “Somewhere in the Wine Country”

One cannot help but notice that in the essence of each of your projects there is a strong underlying idea. How is a project of yours born? Can you describe the process?

Really, my observations are the driving force – what happens to me or around me, the people around me, my environment and everyday life, people’s social problems, whatever makes a strong impression on me is a fair game in the initiation of a project.

What’s the last project you are working on?

I’m still working on the one with the strip clubs. I took a road trip not long ago. It went very well. I only regret that it dind’t took place in a warmer season, say in May, but it was a great experience for me, especially in terms of the transition from New York to San Francisco. The Midwest was particularly impressive – people there live amidst a completely different culture than the one in NY.

Photo: Utah

What changes along the way from the East to the West Coast?

First off, I am a very visual person – there’s a bunch of colors in my head right now. When we left New York, it was very gray, brown, there were no leaves, you couldn’t see far, there were no stars in the sky… We traveled through Pennsylvania and Ohio; Chicago was very cold – I’ve never experienced such hostile weather. Then we descended down to St. Louis, drove along the Mississippi River, and noticed how nature started to change. Once we reached Kansas, we noticed that the landscape was very flat again.

Photo: Kansas

There was nothing along the way besides some occasional McDonald’s places – nothing else to eat or look at. Suddenly we reached Denver and all of a sudden mountains appeared. The straight road suddenly started curving into mighty turns; then we reached Utah, it was flat again, or at least that’s what we thought – although we later discovered we were gradually climbing up without even knowing it, since there were a lot of straight roads – at least an hour drive in a straight line; once again nothing on the road except for trucks.

Photo: Utah

It continued like that until we arrived at Salt Lake City, though nothing was visible because the weather was very bad. By the way, Utah and Nevada were quite picturesque – there was a lot of snow, but it hadn’t piled up, so there were many colors – in the nature, in the sky, especially when the sun was setting, a surreal light was being created. As we reached California, everything was very green and there were stars in the clear sky. So – what’s changing when going from east to west to me is the colors.

Photo: Kansas

What about the people? Are they more friendly as you’re going further south?

Yes, much more relaxed and calm. As you’re leaving New York City, things change quite a bit. For example, people talk very differently in Kansas and Colorado.

You left a great NYC legacy behind you – Bulgarian Artists in America – how did it first start?

Back then, in 2010, I was just graduating from the School of Visual Arts with a BFA in Photography. I wasn’t very busy and I was looking for a full time job in the photo field. Even before that I had started connecting with other Bulgarians interested in the arts and very soon I realized that a Bulgarian artistic community of people with talent working in the professional field of art and culture was generally missing, and that it would be nice to create one.

BAA ‘Fifth Art Date’ by Ivo Stainoff

One evening I was sitting on my computer and decided to create a Facebook group and see how people would respond to it; after all it’s free, and almost everyone nowadays has a Facebook account anyway. Through the FB group I scheduled an “art date” for Bulgarian artists in a local bar and twenty people attended it – they were quite impressed and enthusiastic. Then we made a few more meetings and organized many art exhibitions, concerts, promotions of all kinds for Bulgarian cultural and artistic events in America with other Bulgarian fellow artists.

Since I was living in New York City at the time, the whole focus of my activities was concentrated there and I didn’t know many artists outside the city. But now people from all over the place are discovering us – from California and Chicago, Colorado, Kansas – they’re asking to join the Facebook group and are interested to know how they can participate.

Zachary Karabashliev at Martin E. Segal Theater in NYC
Photo: Zachary Karabashliev and actor Hristo Hristov at Martin E. Segal Theater in NYC

Now I am in California – I will try to expand the club here by inviting more people to participate and show that there is a great Bulgarian talent in the United States that does amazing things at an incredible level, we’re talking world scene here!, and that talent must be discovered and seen.

You mentioned the interest among Bulgarians in the USA, but the club is also known among Bulgarians across the world, right? You invite people from Bulgaria to your events too…

We don’t specifically invite them – when they happen to be here, we help them with the organization and promotion of their events, we disseminate information and invite them, if they have time and occasion, to do something with us.

Theodosii Spassov with BAA in San Francisco
Photo: Theodosii Spassov with members of BAA in San Francisco

We work with artists from Bulgaria, with Bulgarians living in the USA and with international artists in order to be able to have an exchange of interests, ideas and information. We try to stay away from the local (making art just for Bulgarians), because art is universal, it doesn’t have an “identity”, country or race.

Nonetheless, based on your own observations, what seems to be most interesting to Americans when they visit your art dates and shows?

Most of them are surprised to discover how many Bulgarians there are in the USA. My American friends are impressed by what we do. I would say that they are particularly keen on our folk music because it is really unique, highly specific for Bulgarian culture, but if you have ideas, people don’t care where you’re from, whether you are a Bulgarian or not, they are interested to work with professionals with whom they can communicate in the same language and be able to create quality stuff for a wider audience.

Stanislava Georgieva and Karo Atanassov
Photo: Millene Markov, Stanislava Georgieva and Karo Atanassov

Can it be inferred from your words then, that during the ten years since you came here, you haven’t felt discriminated against or disadvantaged in any way, shape or form just because you’re a foreigner from Eastern Europe?

I’d say yes. Of course it was hard at first, while I was still adapting, integrating. But now, after having traveled through most of America, I can say that New York is more than a state, it’s another country – I wouldn’t say it’s representative of America – everyone there is from somewhere else, an immigrant, a non-American, there are not a lot of true New Yorkers, as in other states I have visited – the central states such as Kansas for instance – people look at us in a completely different way over there – I really did feel a bit awkward there, plus they always ask you where you’re from. In New York that’s not the case, same with California.

Jill and Casey Wedding
Photo: From “Jill and Casey’s Wedding”

Is there going to be a new art date in the near future?

I hope to be able to host one here in San Francisco to see what the attitude here would be, and maybe one in New York City as usual.

You’ve developed a very interesting business idea, “Photographer 4 Rent”, how did you conceive of it?

It occurred to me because I wanted to explain to people that photography is a profession, not just a hobby. I started doing it separately from my other projects, though somehow they are still connected.

Amellia and Ryon's Wedding
Photo: Amellia and Ryon’s Wedding

What services does “Photographer 4 Rent” offer?

Wedding photography, family / child / baby portraiture, architecture photography, corporate events photography – everything you can think of.

Do you have a favorite theme for shooting; something that gives you the most pleasure?

I’m not a big fan of this “favorite things” label, but the topics that I like are related to our lives, the problems of existence, existence itself – they have more of a documentary nature.

Winter in Bulgaria
Photo: Winter in Bulgaria

When did you last go back to Bulgaria?

This winter. I took pictures in Razlog – the snow in Bulgaria was gorgious this winter. At first I photographed the mummers in Razlog – I have uploaded some pictures of them on my blog, but I’m still working on them to make a whole portfolio. Most of my photography topics in Bulgaria are inevitably related to the social side of life there – I think there is a lot of material for shooting, but you need much time.

What struck you when you came back? Were there any major changes?

It’s nice going back – my parents, my family are there. I went to Sofia, then to Burgas, Tryavna, Bansko, I really liked the small mountain towns. I noticed something like a revival of the Bulgarian tradition – for example, many bars and clubs have started playing Bulgarian folk music – that was not very common before.

I even saw a “horoteka” – the equivalent of a disco club for folk dances. At other places I felt as if I was in America – so many new things have been built – shopping plazas outside the cities – people have started realizing that it’s impossible to go places without a car, just like in the States.

Is the fact that we’ve started resembling the U.S. in some respects good or bad?

It’s not bad, but the standard is low, and it is very new to the people – in a way, our infrastructure does not allow Bulgarians to have access to these innovations yet.

Karo Atanassov's show 'Poets and Criminals' with Christo Yavashev
Photo: Karo Atanassov’s show ‘Poets and Criminals’ with Christo Yavashev

Is there anything from New York that you miss in San Fran?

I miss my friends… In San Francisco, among other things, there are a lot of supporters of folk dances and many Americans who are keen on folk music. Tonight I’m going to watch and photograph one such event.

What about Bulgarian Artists in America? What can we expect from the club

More enthusiasm, more people to get involved, an expansion of the group and the completion of a website where there is going to be information about everything that’s happening with and around us. I hope to find more sponsors and be able to host more exhibitions and concerts where Bulgarians from all over the world will be able to gather.

BAA’s {Art C} event highlight

I’m talking about traveling group festivals – when I was in Chicago, I met a Bulgarian who has organized several groups of Bulgarian folk dancers from different cities in the U.S. to come to Chicago and make a big folk festival, which is very nice and I hope it can happen more often. I think that in the next 5-10 years we’ll see a surge of events and initiatives because the Bulgarians here are part of a younger generation that’s just beginning to relax and open to the world. In Chicago there are seven Bulgarian schools, this must mean something…

BAA “The Proposal” – a group art show at The Bulgarian Consulate in New York City

Can we say then that it’s a myth that Bulgarians abroad are very divided and completely unsupportive to each other?

You can’t possibly have common interests with everyone. Just like in Bulgaria you can’t be friends with everyone, here you need to find the middle, the appropriate circle of like-minded people that suits your interests. When I was leaving New York, my friends organized a farewell party for me and said that they are very grateful that I have created the group, thus creating a cultural environment for them full of people that they would not have met if it were not for the club. This really makes me happy – I have managed to unite the Bulgarians at a small scale now, but I hope it will grow.

Temporary Status
Photo: Temporary Status

Imagine, for example, just like in the movies, that an unexperienced Bulgarian comes to NYC for the first time without knowing anyone there. Where can they go and meet people like you?

I think the Bulgarian Consulate in New York would be their best bet – it can give them information about anything they need to know. We have a very good partnership with the Consulate – the current General Consul Radoslav Totchev is extremely supportive to our initiatives. In fact we supported the Bulgarian Film Festival in New York just a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend, but my colleagues who were there – Daniela Kostova, BAA’s Director of Exhibitions, and Ivo Stainoff who helps BAA with video – said they had received very good reviews of the festival.

Bulgarian Artists in America celebrates with award winning author Zachary Karabashliev at the Mehanata in downtown New Yrok

It was held at the Tribeca Cinema. Among our other supporters are BG Focus in Boston and basically all the groups in New York. Now we shall see how the local Bulgarians in the San Fran area will react to this idea. Right now in New York there is a Bulgarian exhibition which features three or four Bulgarian artists curated by Daniela Kostova who also takes part in it: Georgi Toushev, Vikenti Komitski, who is in New York on a Residence program, and Natalia Mount who is also an assistant curator.

Since that’s the week of Armory Show in New York, all the major galleries in the world have come to New York, and it’s great that our exhibition opened in the Radiator Gallery in Long Island City at the same time.

Check out Stani’s latest projects by visiting her WEBSITE, BLOG or at PHOTOGRAPHER4RENT

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