Often enough, this is how it goes with social media nowadays: Even though you live in the same big city and you’ve got a shared appreciation for the other’s work, doesn’t mean you’ve ever met outside of the online sphere. Denitsa Toshirova is a very talented young photographer from Bulgaria and I’ve been following her impressive portfolio for a good while now. Seriously, check out her work here, it’s fantastic. I happened to met her in person for the first time at the launch night of Boom Saloon, when we found out we’re actually magazine buddies – my piece on Jupiter Artland and Denitsa’s stunning photo series ‘Cold Memories’ side-by-side. All the more reason to sit down with her and briefly catch up on her beginnings, inspirations, identity and, well, that wretched thing called Brexit.
Hi Denitsa, let’s get right into it: How would you describe your photographic style and which themes do you predominantly explore in your work?
I would like to think my photographic style is always developing and I feel over the last few years it has really shifted significantly. University is the kind of place that gives you the space and security to try out new things, to explore, to fail, and try again.
Most of my work is focused around the exploration of identity, partially, as a way of understanding who I am and where I belong, but mainly as a way of understanding other people and the world around me. My main focus has always been on portraiture, however, I have always been interested in pushing the boundaries of traditional photography through collage, diptychs, or photo manipulation. The body and how it relates to nature and the land, is a recurring topic in my work.
I noticed that you come from fine art drawing and painting initially. How did you get into photography and does your varied artistic background inform your practice today?
When I was a kid, I used to draw for hours. I used to dream of being an artist or a fashion designer. All these dreams dissolved when I found myself in high school studying Latin, Ancient Greek and philosophy. Painting became the thing I used to love doing, but never had time for.
I had my first camera when I was 15, and frankly, I have never really been that interested in photography before. One could almost say I got into photography by accident, for an ethnographic project for school that never went through. But I loved it. And with the rise of social media at the time, I quickly found a platform to share my work and learn a great deal about photography from other people. To my surprise, I found a lot of support too. My artistic background has definitely influenced my practice and perhaps it still does, but I find that photographic theory and my personal experiences are the two main forces that drive my work forward.
Your series ‘Cold Memories’ is about alienation and reconnection from and with the past. Tell me a bit more about your approach, your two homes, Bulgaria and Scotland, and what has changed for and within you over time.
When you live far away from home, especially at this age, everything changes. You leave your comfort zone some 3114 km behind and you dive into the big scary unknown, hoping for the best. I have lived in Scotland for over 4 years now, and I often find myself in this weird in-between space. I have lived away for long enough to sometimes feel like an outsider in my own home, but as much as I adore Scotland, I would always feel foreign here too. But the most important things for me are the people around me and what I do, and in this case, I have been more than lucky to get the best of both. Bulgaria would always be my home, where my family is, where I grew up, where I became who I am, but Scotland is be the place that shaped the insecure 18-year-old girl that stepped out of the plane back in 2012 and though ‘What the Hell did I just do?!’. Coming here has been one of the best and most difficult experiences, with a lot of ups and downs, but along the way I have met some of the most wonderful people, ended up in places I have never even dreamed of, and most importantly, I have managed to do what I love most, and that is photography.
With Brexit inevitably looming ahead of us and manipulating our social climate, do you think the concept of home and identity is going to change more drastically?
The concept of home and identity is a social construct and as such, it is constantly changing and shifting. However, I feel, the problem is that too many people are still so helplessly holding on to the outdated belief that our cultural identity is somehow something fixed, stable, and somewhere in the past. But the truth is, who we are, should not be pre-determined by where we come from, but rather, by where we are going and what we are doing. In the Global Society that we live in today, we are too focused on seeing the differences in each other as an obstruction. Equality is not about eliminating those differences, it’s about embracing and accepting them. People should be free to do whatever makes them happy and if they cannot find that happiness in their home country, why should they feel guilty and unwelcome to make a change? I sometimes feel people fear that someone else’s happiness is somehow going to take away theirs.
Brexit is already changing the political and economic landscape in the UK and Europe and this would inevitably impact not only people’s everyday lives, but certainly their understanding of who they are and where they belong. So in this instance, what is important, is how we respond to this change. The year of 2016 has proven that the world could be a very scary and insecure place for a lot of people, so regardless of all the changes and things happening, what we should always strive to be is, stay human.
Thanks for the chat, Denitsa!