Ostblick: Vesselina Nikolaeva

„Ich bin ein sentimentales Wesen.“

Der Ostblock war der jahrelange Gegenspieler zur westlichen Welt, auf der anderen Seite des eisernen Vorhangs. Durch die Linse unserer Ostfotograf:innen werfen wir einen Blick auf ihre Heimatorte, alte Jugendzimmer und neue Idole, alles östlich der deutsch-polnischen Grenze – ein Ostblick.

Nostalgie galt früher als eine ernst zu nehmende Krankheit. Eine, die mit tiefer Traurigkeit einhergeht und mit einem unregelmäßigen Herzschlag sogar körperlich messbar gewesen sein soll. Das war früher. Mittlerweile ist Nostalgie wie ein Dauergefühl: körperlich ungefährlich, aber durchaus gesellschaftsprägend. Vesselina Nikolaeva hat die Nostalgie zu ihrem Geschäft gemacht: „Ich bin ein sentimentales Wesen“, sagt sie. Die Fotografin dokumentiert mit ihrer Arbeit die Tatsache, dass alles, wie sie sagt, für immer verloren sei. Wer denkt, dass Bilder mit so viel Nostalgie besonders dunkel und trübselig sein müssen, der irrt. Denn in Vesselinas Arbeiten und auch überall sonst kann Nostalgie – wenn man so will – etwas Einendes haben. Einige hören Siebziger-Rock, fühlen sich wieder jung und verdrängen das Abtreibungsverbot, Waldbrände und die Trennung der Beatles. Andere träumen sich zurück in verlorene Heimaten und friedliche Zeiten. Und so sucht Vesselina mit ihrer Fotografie nach etwas Zusammenhängendem in einer fragmentierten Welt. „In meinem Leben habe ich unzählige Grenzen zwischen Kulturen und Ideologien, Ländern und Kontinenten überschritten“, sagt die Fotografin.

Carmen Maiwald: Since the first issue of Achtung, we have looked to the east. We feel that should be done more often. What can the West learn from the East?

Vesselina Nikolaeva: I have lived and traveled both in Eastern and Western Europe and I can always sense being in a country with a colonial past. It is not something the society will advertise, yet that history defines the perception of self and a sense of value. Looking at this with understanding and without judgment could offer the base of a fair start, but these days nationalism often dissolves the fragile humane take on the world.

CM: What is the first image that comes to your mind when you think about your country?

VN: My country is my small world: my parents’ home and my mother’s garden. The images reflect my daughter growing up in that garden, the late summer nights, the crickets, the sense of belonging. I am a sentimental being.

CM: What is the biggest difference you notice when you travel from Eastern to Western Europe?

VN: Sterility is the first word which comes to my mind, however it does not carry a negative connotation. My perception is created by my own experience, understanding of the world as well as my cultural background, therefore making a generalization like this is always subjective.

CM: Which opportunities are offered by your home country with regard to photography?

VN: My understanding of photography was shaped and realized outside of Bulgaria and I still meet challenges in the way the broader audience reflects on my images. At the same time, I see a tremendous growth and experimenting in photography, which makes me excited about the new artistic generation.

CM: If you had not become a photographer, what would you be now?

VN: My parents are medical practitioners and I grew up with their anatomy books. Looking back at my choices and under different circumstances, I’d be a surgeon.

CM: Which photographer from your home country inspires you the most?

VN: My inspiration comes from contemporary Bulgarian writers. The two writers I have in mind are: Marin Bodakov and Gerorgi Gospodinov.

CM: Black and white or color?

VN: When I prepare for a project, I always ask myself on color vs black and white depending on my feeling, my broader theme and the outcome objects if I know it at that point. I shoot both films, yet I feel more connected to color.

CM: Your favorite place in your hometown?

VN: I love the weekend markets when farmers come to the capital with their products. I find those places have great energy and vitality and it is the one place I never want to photograph but just experience.

CM: Which posters used to hang on the walls of your teen bedroom?

VN: I had only one poster of L’Amant by Jean-Jacques Annaud above my bed.

CM: If your city would be a piece of clothing, what would it be?

VN: I imagine slippers. I like the way slippers feel on bare feet, exposed to dust, sweat and the heat. The loose connection to the foot makes it feel light and unengaged.

CM: During the Soviet Union, pictures had to be smuggled from East to West through the “iron curtain”. Even though this curtain has long since fallen, how difficult is it for young creatives to cross these borders and to get international attention?

VN: The difficulty in my opinion comes from the outdated visual language and the way photography is taught in art schools. Contemporary photography is a business and besides artistic development the school must offer an adequate understanding of what tools one needs to operate for the international scene.

CM: What do you want to move as a photographer abroad and in your homeland?

VN: I like the idea that my work abroad has shown the young generation in Bulgaria and broken the stereotypical myths perhaps. At home I try to show a delicate way of looking at people and the quiet portraits made without the “wow” element I value so much. The uncertainty in this case is a matter of calmness. The human beings in my lens are at peace with their multiplicity and through me they stare at the viewer.

And now, as I write all this, I feel that my words – literal and figurative – are incapable of fixing intimacy with these non-posing faces and bodies at all. Words. Silence, passing into silence. Silence that turns into a bare touch. Bold and shy. In disclosure. In a protected revelation.
A peaceful ocean of emotions.

The usual is intimate. The intimate does not distinguish bodily from mental, man from woman, couple from man alone. Intimacy is ordinary. It passes through desire, but very rarely survives beyond it.

Want to see the last Ostblick? Click here.