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Elena Panayotova who brings worlds closer together and knows the power of images

On World Photography Day, we find ourselves 'Far from Africa' and closer to art

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Photo: personal archive

Did you know that the world's first lasting photograph was an image of the moon? It was made by the Frenchman Louis Daguerre in 1839. On August 19 of the same year, the photographic method invented by him - daguerreotype - was recognized by the French Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts. This is how "visible literature" , in the words of the great Argentinе writer Julio Cortazar, was born, which jumps over linguistic, cultural, religious and ethnic boundaries. People are beginning to capture the moment, tell stories in one shot, and declare their reality to generations to come. Black-and-white photography entered our lives en masse at the beginning of the 20th century. In Bulgaria, art photography was recognized as an art form in 1957, and a few years later the first educational class in photography was opened at the then Technical School of Graphics in Sofia. ‎

Today we perceive the capturing of the moment as another given of our time. Photography is one of the most popular and affordable methods of making our presence known in a one-click effort. But when we talk about the art of the image, the "look" of the person behind the lens is essential. "What the photographer sees and whether it is enough to reach that level of magic, which is not inherent in any other art, determines the value," Bulgarian theatre director Elena Panayotova says in an interview for Radio Bulgaria.

‎"With the advent of photography, visual arts changed. It is extremely important that documentary images, especially after the 1990s, have been fully rehabilitated and are beginning to be exhibited in major galleries alongside works of painting. Photography is a form of dialogue - every photo tells a story. Art that tries to catch a continuous moment in a way that no other artist can react so quickly. That's the magic. It gives access to places and events that cannot be shared or seen in any other way," the director believes.‎


This month, Elena Panayotova and professional photographer Atanas Kanev opened their joint exhibition "Far from Africa" ​​in the City Art Gallery of Plovdiv. The two show their captured moments from the adventure called "Artists for Children", an artistic-social program of the DEN GRI Foundation, led by Elena Panayotova in Kenya (2011-2017) and in Shiroka Laka, Bulgaria (2002-2017). ‎


‎"These are shots of places and people that the public can't see otherwise ‎and represent our process of working with over 5,000 children and youth at risk ‎and 300 artists from Africa and Europe. You see the reality outside the tourist routes," says Panayotova. The exhibition of 150 frames also includes landscapes from Kenya and Zanzibar, and the colors are what make them unique. Atanas Kanev admits that the light in Kenya is different and unique because of the low location of the Sun to the Earth around the Equator. ‎


Elena dedicates the exhibition to her father Panayot Panayotov, who for many years was the director of the State Enterprise "Bulgarian Photography" in Plovdiv. ‎


"Actually, my childhood is photography. I grew up surrounded by black and white films, and our bathroom often turned into a photo lab. Photography infected me with the magic that led me to the theater and remained forever my second passion. I have learned a lot from my father. For him, photography was a way of telling and getting to know the world around him. And when I started to travel, it was a great challenge and excitement to enter the so-called travel photography and through it to share everything that I experience in such different and distant places."‎

Elena Panayotova together with her father Panayot Panayotov

* Elena Panayotova is a theater director, producer and teacher in Bulgaria and abroad. He has been a long-time teacher at the Academy of Arts in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and at the New Bulgarian University in Sofia.

*In 2016, the "Artists for Children" program is among the 8 projects out of a total of 1,800 from around the world supported by UNESCO to contribute to cultural diversity in the world.

Photos: Elena Panayotova, Atanas Kanev, Petar Peshev, personal archive 

English version Rositsa Petkova


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