Tag Archives: photography

The Bulgarians

A scarecrow in the village of Zimzelen in the Rhodopes; a man reading a newspaper in front of some park benches in Ruse; an ultra-nationalist rally in Sofia; a Roma girl dancing with closed eyes in the village of Kovachevitsa; men playing chess in the park in front of Naroden Theater in Sofia; a man in a rakija distillery in a village near Karnobat; two elderly Pomak women in traditional dresses with a snow-covered peak of the Rhodopes in the background; a border fence at the Bulgarian-Turkish border near the village of Beleozen; a girl behind the bar of a self-service pub in the village of Chervenka; a beggar and his dog on Vitosha Street in Sofia; men in a village mosque; two old men in Sozopol at the Black Sea; an abandoned school in a village in the Strandzha mountains; the Jewish cemetery in Karnobat –

these are just some of the subjects of the photos in Anthony Georgieff’s new book The Bulgarians, recently published in a high-quality bi-lingual edition. 

In the instructive foreword Georgi Lozanov points out the similarities of Georgieff’s anthropological photographic project with Robert Frank’s classical book The Americans. The Bulgarians shows a big variety of “average” individuals from different background, religion, ethnicity, age, gender, profession, social status, from urban areas as well as from remote villages, accompanied by photos that show human traces, graffiti, dilapidating buildings, or monuments of different eras, decaying or still fully revered. The element of the extraordinary moment, or of celebrity is carefully avoided in most cases (and when not, it is not with the aim to show celebrity, as is the case with the shot of a TV screen that shows the present Prime Minister, a photo that is reflecting the way most Bulgarians perceive politics). This, together with the careful composition of the work, make this – predominantly black and white – photo book a highly interesting statement regarding the identity of Bulgarians in the early 21st century.

While the parallels with Frank’s book are obvious, Lozanov points out also the differences which are particularly stunning when one compares photos of retired Americans with those of their Bulgarian peers:

“The former dress up in brightly coloured clothes, when their time for ‘well-deserved retirement’ comes, hang cameras around their necks, and start travelling the world. The latter (i,e. the retired Bulgarians – T.H.) put on dark clothes and headscarves, and sit on benches in front of their houses waiting for the world to pass them by. In The Bulgarians you will see Bulgarian grannies being passed by by the world.”

Not surprisingly, smiles are rare on the pages of The Bulgarians, but not completely missing. Georgieff has a sharp, but sympathetic eye – and for most people in Bulgaria, there is little reason to smile.

Two family photos from the private archive of the author open and end the photo sequence in the book. While the first one depicts a funeral in the family, approximately 90 years ago, the second one shows the author as an optimistic looking child. The comment the child wrote on the back of the photo made me smile, but you have to read it yourself…

Renowned journalist, photographer, and author Anthony Georgieff, the man behind Vagabond, the highly recommended English-language journal that publishes among other interesting articles about Bulgaria in every edition a story or an excerpt of a longer work by a contemporary Bulgarian author, has done an excellent job and this “anthropological roadtrip” will enrich everyone with a serious interest in Bulgaria and its people. It is also a photography book that may well be considered a classic in the years to come.

Georgieff told me after the book presentation I attended two days ago in Sofia that he is planning also a work related to Communist Bulgaria in the near future. I can say that I am looking forward to this work with great curiosity.

Anthony Georgieff: The Bulgarians. Preface by Georgi Lozanov, Vagabond Media, Sofia 2016

Some photos from the book you can find here.

The same publisher has produced some other equally interesting books that document  Bulgaria’s cultural, historical, religious and ethnic diversity in English and Bulgarian, and that are illustrated with excellent photos as well. More information on these books you can find here.


© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

18% Gray


When you take photos sometimes, you may know or not know that cameras have a light meter. All light meters including those in every camera must be calibrated to assume a certain percentage of light being reflected from the subject you want to photograph.

Each light meter can be used to determine correct exposure so long as the photographer knows the angle of measurement and knows how to isolate what is being measured. In addition to knowing the area from which the reading is taken, it is also important to know the approximate reflectance of that area. This is the part that can make using a reflected meter difficult, since the meter can’t determine subject reflectance for you and you must mentally calculate it.

Or you use a standardized surrogate subject such as the common Kodak Gray Card, which has a stated reflectance of 18%. Hence the title of this book, which has also a metaphorical meaning, as readers will find out.

Zack, the narrator/protagonist of this book – the fact that he has the same name as the author is a hint that probably a part of this novel is autobiographical – has two serious problems at the beginning of this book: Stella, his wife and the big love of his life has left him (and as we later learn: for good), and as a result of that Zack is in a severe crisis; and furthermore he comes unintentionally into possession of a big bag with marijuana.

What follows is a road trip from California to New York, and also a trip into the past of Zack’s and Stella’s lives. A man tries hard to find the woman he loves and whom he has lost (long before she physically left him); but he also tries to find again his vocation as an artist; and besides, he wants to sell the dope at the East Coast and maybe start a new life with the money.

The book is structured in a very interesting way: there is the story of Zack, after Stella left him, and his journey through the country; there are flashbacks that describe Stella’s and Zack’s story from the moment they met, in Varna, Bulgaria – by coincidence also a very important place in my life – , in the last days of the communist regime, their move to the U.S. as students, their attempts to build a new life – Stella as a painter, Zack as a photographer and after this fails, as a supervisor of test results for a pharmaceutical company -, and how their lives are drifting slowly apart; and there are short conversations between Zack and Stella, all recorded in moments when Zack takes photographs of Stella, and which give a clear indication of how their relationship slowly changes.

All three lines of this story have their own typography, so it is very easy for the reader to follow these permanent switches, which structure the texts into quite short sections. Here and also in the very good dialogues the reader feels that the author is also a prolific screen writer. This novel has a movie-like feel, and it is not surprising that it will be made (or is it already made?) into a movie.

The novel touches on many interesting topics: how do relationships change over time, and what can we do to prevent us from losing “it” – the love and also the purpose of life, which for Zack was first the music (when he was in Bulgaria, he started a career as front man of a punk band), later photography, and finally writing; it is also a novel about emigration and how it affects the identity of those who give up their home country and re-invent themselves somewhere else; it is a book about America (there are excellent descriptions not only about California and New York, but especially about the Mid West, Texas and all the other places Zack is crossing); can money really compensate us for other losses – the answer is obvious…; and a few more.

“I now realize that my American West was not a geographical place, but a sacred territory in my dreams. Perhaps everybody has their own Wild West. From a very young age, I knew with certainty that one day I would live in mine. I’d caress the yellow prairie grass and the wind would kiss my face. When did I lose all that? How did I manage to desecrate my West by replacing it with the plastic version of what I’ve been living in for the last few years of my life? “

I like about the book also that it is obviously in the tradition of the Künstlerroman (artist’s novel); but it reminds me at the same time of American road movies. There are plenty of absurd situations and people in the book, and also a kind of roguish humor which is a good antithesis to Zack’s and Stella’s sad story. I also like the somewhat ambiguous end and the wonderful last sentence:

“We watch the world outside through our reflections.”

A great book, if you ask me.

The English translation by Angela Rodel is flawless and excellent.

By the way, I read the English edition published by the Bulgarian publisher Ciela. For the cover they used a photo by the author (now editor-in-chief at the same publishing house) that fits this book very well.

PS: One – minor – correction: Old Firehand is of course NOT “a fictional native American hero” of several Karl May novels, as a footnote on page 190 informs us. “Hugh, ich habe gesprochen!”



Zachary Karabashliev: 18% Gray, transl. by Angela Rodel, Open Letter Books, Rochester 2013, Ciela, Sofia 2015

This review is part of Stu’s (Winstonsdad’s Blog) Eastern European Lit month: https://winstonsdad.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/welcome-to-eastern-european-lit-month/





© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or 
duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Ara Güler’s Istanbul


Really great artists are frequently very modest, even humble persons, says Orhan Pamuk in the introduction to the photo book Ara Güler’s Istanbul. 

Güler calls himself a photo journalist, but he is much more: a chronicler of his home town Istanbul since the late 1940s, a kind of archaeologist (since Istanbul has changed a lot in the last decades), but definitely also a great artist.


Ara Güler’s Istanbul presents just a small sample of the more than 800,000 photos he took almost exclusively with his Leica, but they give a wonderful opportunity to catch a glimpse of the artist’s most iconic works.

We see fishermen mending their nets, children playing in front of derelict Ottoman structures, ferry boats passing the Golden Horn, street vendors pushing their carts in the cobblestone streets of Kadıköy, a tram waiting for a man with his horse cart passing the rails. It’s usually not the Istanbul tourists know. We see crumbling buildings and people who look tired from their everyday struggle to survive in this glorious city. Istanbul and its buildings are only the backdrop for a big stage: the drama of life with its difficulties, everyday routines and small pleasures.


Güler’s photos breathe a deep humanity. The people we see on his photos, no matter how poor they may be, are never devoid of a certain dignity. And frequently there is a touch of magic there too, which is difficult to describe. Just have a look at these breathtaking photos.

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Ara Güler’s Istanbul, Introduction by Orhan Pamuk, Thames & Hudson 2009

Ara Güler’s website: http://www.araguler.com.tr/

© Ara Güler (photos) 
© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.