Interview with Nikolay Mirchev
“The axis of my work, I would say, is combination of aesthetics and dreams.” Nikolay Mirchev
Nikolay Mirchev, why did you become a photographer?
Since early age, I was always involved in some sort of art activities or hobbies. I was quite good with painting; we also had a rock band, building models of ships from matchsticks … just name it. As the life progressed further I came across many changes and obstacles – which changed completely my, early years, course of direction in life.
It was after many years, when I embarked on my foreign quest, when I established myself in London and finally had the chance to get read of all the unnecessary distraction in my life. After finding some inner peace, with my new lifestyle, I somehow felt the urge to create again.
It was in 2005 when I was recovering from an operation when my wife, girlfriend back then, asked me if I wanted her to bring me some magazine to read. I said yes but without specifying, despite she asking me, what title I would prefer to read – for my big surprise she brought me a copy of Digital photography magazine. This was the moment that set me on the path of becoming a photographer.
So my short version of an answer is – the creative urge I had since my childhood, it was just a matter of finding the right medium and time for all of it to happen.
What does photography mean to you and what do you want to transmit with your pictures? Has that changed over the years?
Going back many years, when I was still a school boy, I remember one particular moment. I was in my village, where I use to go every summer vacation, helping my grandparents with the daily work, and although I was quite young I had some sort of philosophical moments of thinking.
I was staring at a hill in the further distance, where the summer landscape was stretching across a green field so beautifully, and the sky floated with fluffy white clouds. I was staring at this scene for quite a while and then I started thinking, how to consume it, preserve it and keep it for longer, for myself at least. All I was able to do is just watch it and observe it; as soon as I was going to move my eyes away from it nobody would ever know how beautiful the green field was that day.
Justifying the reality I witness – capturing this unique moments in a way only photographer can sees them, making them slightly more permanent for other to experience them too. I guess this is the base reason for my creative drive.
Changes are our most trusted companion in life, nothing happens without changes. The same applies for my photography life, the combination of evolving as photographer and progressing through life – inevitable stimulates changes which a are result of natural causes, we cannot stay the same and do the same things. We may not be fully aware but if we stop for a moment and look behind, examine the work created, then the change will be apparent.
Which photographer has inspired you most? Why?
I’m the sort of person who likes to see new work but I do not really get influenced by it.
Probably as my main inspiration in photography, I could point the finger at the work of Joe McNally – a unique sense for composition, master in manipulating and exploring the light, in its best, and a great personality. His body of work is unique, spanning over many decades; having the chance to photograph unique people on unique locations and times, throughout the modern history.
Also, I quite enjoy the work of Gregory Crewdson.
What’s your favorite photography quote?
“We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”
How would you describe your photographic voice and creative process?
My voice is very quiet and private, also divers. Although I specialize in commercial or portrait photography I would photograph everything that I find having the potential or aesthetically appeals to be captured on a photograph, that is why very often I’m out on the streets or traveling abroad. There is this inner voice that pushes me to explore my own boundaries. In the name of finding and capturing a better moment – than everything I photographed before.
Geometry also plays very important role in my creative process; I see my canvas as an empty void where everything is perfectly still in a state of vacuum. Then I see lines or geometrical patterns, and then there is people and the whole plethora of objects that starts to populate and form the content; a void where I’m the one who creates the order and render motionless and beautiful realm – out of the ambient chaos.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice?
As I mentioned, above, I do enjoy looking at other artists work, trying really hard not to get influenced by what I see but rather absorb their vision and use it as a base on which I will grow my own.
I like to see the world and map it my own way and I guess this is what helped me create my own voice.
I think the most important aspect is to follow the real, pre-photographer, you and be true to yourself – this is our seed, which one day will grow to be the expression of who we are and mark that we’ve been here.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
The axis of my work, I would say, is combination of aesthetics and dreams. I like to think of myself as a person who sees into and understands the universal concept of aesthetics – although this is a very dynamic concept that we develop constantly and it could be subjective for many people. Then there are my visions and dreams, of scenes or characters, that exist in my head and I’m actually trying to bring them to life through my photography.
For example in my portraiture work, I tend to use lots of strobe lighting, costumes and probes. I don’t just use same lighting pattern for each character I photograph, but adapt and explore new ones to fit my vision and render it as close to what I had in mind.
On the other hand, for example, when I’m photographing street photography, before I go out, I already, sort of, see an imaginary scene that I like to capture, this in essence is my lighthouse – guiding me when I’m out in the rough reality of the storming chaos. Here is where my eyes, striving to see order and beauty, start exploring and noticing details – details that I’ll capture, carrying the unique essence of the moment which otherwise will dissolve into the eternity.
What qualities and characteristics does a good photographer need?
I believe that photographers should be some sort of ambassadors of good spirit and human will; after all we are the one carrying the important task of recording the world we leave in. Very good example of this concept is the war photography, these photographers are at the front line along with the soldiers, risking their lives, and they don’t even carry a weapon, instead a camera – the ultimate devotion.
Humanitarian – love and respect for people, the very people who make us what we are – as an artists and as humans. It is something that should stream throughout our work, inspiring welfare and positive emotions, universal beauty through the aesthetics of photography.
Being respectful – not only to humans but to all that exist in nature, as for all that is out there will become part of the scenes and dreams we are capturing and at the same time we are also part of it.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes?
Strong content – this is a crucial component of a good photograph to be, even if the light wasn’t perfect and maybe the image is slightly out of focus we still can compromise on this as long as the image contain unique reference/content. Good example of this is if we are to compare street photography from early 19th to what our cotemporary fellow photographers are capturing. Back in those days big dramatic events were taking places, there was such powerful content out there begging to be captured, all I can see now days is content that it’s been enforced – examples are the many street photography captures of grumpy people, where the camera was literally stuck in their faces.
In general, for me great image is like cooking a great dish. It can be complex or simple, by capturing complex image we tend to combine all the ingredients in a very balanced manner and for the simple is when we use only one but in the most appropriate way.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
It may sound funny to say but I certainly do not draw inspiration from photography, instead I get inspired by paintings and movies I see. Very often I see a scene in a movie that provokes me to build my own interpretation of what I just digested visually. It could have been the light or perhaps the interaction between the characters.
Every time I go on a trip, first thing I do is to go around and see what the local painters, or classic ones, were inspired by. Mind that painters have much more freedom, compared to us photographers. They are not bound by most physical obstacles, so they can create any scene they imagine or alter an existing one in a way they see it.
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
Somehow I end up being a Canon user – for the big part of my photography I always used full frame camera and my most used lens is Canon 24-105mm, I just love photographing with it – it is sharp and offers very flexible focal range, something very important for me especially when out Shooting Street or Travel photography.
What’s been the most useful gadget you’ve purchased recently?
A 64gb memory card, this was the most recent thig I bought. As a commercial photographer I tend to shoot high volume of photography and in the now days high resolution cameras, a larger capacity memory card makes my professional life much easier.
Are there any photo-apps you use? Which ones?
I don’t really use any – unless Instagram is considered as an app, yes I’m on it.
What was your most memorable moment shooting pictures?
Once I visited “The old man of storr”, a famous landscape location on Ile of sky, Scotland. The weather was sunny and nice but by the time I reached the top a very powerful storm/gale caught me – sitting on a very narrow rock edge. The storm was so powerful it started to lift me up from that edge, where I was holding myself with one arm as in the other I was holding my camera. The situation get so serious that I almost throw my camera in the gorge below, so can use my both hands to hold up. Luckily the storm stopped as suddenly as it started, I was so close to falling down in the gorge below. The wind was so strong that literally I was, for a moment, out of control.
Another event that I will remember is when I visited Wales; there was this beautiful cave, where of course I entered. By the time I set my tripod and started taking images the tide cut my way out. In the very last moment I managed to go out, holding my equipment above my head as myself I was up to my chest in the sea water.
I’ll also always remember when I was in Meteora, Greece, taking long exposure night shots – I was bitten twice before discovering what actually it was – a scorpion.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
I like to visit Joe Mcnally’s blog – as I said I tend to watch movies and look at paintings. Saying this, I need to mention that I still have a folder, called inspiration, with bookmarked website with quality photography I found online.
What photography book would you recommend?
“The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography” by Focal Press.
I believe this is something must for all photographer lovers out there.
Which advice would you give someone who’s just starting as a photographer?
For me, the most important thing for a newbie photographer is – get your inspiration for photography to come from the right photographers.
Very often I see young photographers who are drawn to some sort inspirational influence that, I personally, find counterproductive.
For example – getting influenced by some HDR, sort of highly processed images, or perhaps a sort of self-proclaimed street photographers – chasing old and grumpy people around town.