Making no fuss or launching promotion campaigns, the Looking into the Times exhibition by photographer Ivan Grigorov opened doors on 10 November 2017 at the Club Gallery of Photojournalists (in the underpass towards the Council of Ministers). One hundred pictures were put on display, taken in the last four or so decades. November 10th 1989 was not just another day as it marked a dividing line when it comes both to journalism and the Bulgarian society as a whole and the photographer threw a bridge of images across it. Many of the exhibited photographs had captured moments relating to that day: the arson attack on the Communist Party Headquarters; the dismantling of the red star from its steeple, the crowds, etc., but he had also captured the faces of renowned figures of the past. Starting his career in the 1970s, photographs by Ivan Grigorov are a time machine of a kind: flashbacks of a childhood or youth to the whirlwind of the transitional period to the present. He himself observed humbly:
‘ A small retrospective vantage point of the last not that few years as captured by my camera.’[i]
The pictures were authentically b & w, not popularly digitised, taken on roll films, and shown unprocessed.
‘I never converted colour photographs to b & w as is in vogue at the moment because they were not in demand until 1995. A few magazines published colour photos. Besides, I had to carry the heavy Pentacon, because they wanted slides for 6 х 6.’[ii]
Simply recounted from practical experience. This uncluttered technique though called to mind one of the best aspects of photography: its pure authenticity as a document. What we saw on Ivan Grigorov’s pictures was reality as it was. Well composed, unchoreographed, non-verbose, they showed life as it used to be. People in their everyday clothes and problems, the streets, buildings and cars of the past and of course the oddities of that time:
‘A curious thing was the installation of the second reactor at Kozloduy NPP. Nobody was aware of the developments. We just went to take pictures of the plant and all of a sudden, we saw the reactor core being mounted. Upon seeing this, we rapidly started shooting with the camera (I was assisting). I took the camera and started taking pictures. Then opening the camera, I saw I had not put a roll film… I could have taken unique photos.’[iii]
Ivan Grigorov completed his studies in Journalism from the University of Sofia in 1975 to contribute for Pogled weekly until 1995.
‘My first published photo was in Start weekly: Stefan Pavlov – Fify’s shot, which secured a 1-0 win for Levski vs. CCKA. The ball was not seen. I left the photo at the reception desk and there it was published on the next day. Next to it was a photo by Skrinski, picturing the goalkeeper plunging and the ball nestled in the net. It was in November 1971. They hired me in Pogled in the summer of 1977, I contributed some material and the Editor-in-chief, Yasen Antov said: ‘You’re hired‘. We’d travel abroad without per diem allowances or covered travel expenses. We had tickets from Balkan Airlines. Sometimes we managed to arrange to stay overnight. That was how I visited a lot of places.’[iv]
The age… the time… our life at that time. Words would more often than not sound absurdly, yet the captured documentary images can’t lie. His accounts just add to the bigger picture given by the images on his photographs:
‘The arson attack on the Communist Party Headquarters and the circus burnt to the ground. Half of my roll films were confiscated then and given back two years later. I succeeded in hiding the rest away. Just one picture of those events was published despite the ban in Pogled of all the press. The editor-in-chief was taken to task for publishing the photograph.’[v]
I often think that the stories going away with this generation is a grave loss of memory though it covers only a subjective, personal viewpoint but human too. Looking into the Times sheds, at least partially, light on the past years what they used to be. Or until the exhibition runs, i.e. until the end of November.
[i] https://impressio.dir.bg/photography/ivan-grigorov-shotlandskiya-boets-na-balgarskata-fotozhurnalistika (13.10.2017)