An Interview With: Gabriela Gesheva

Who are you and where did you study?

My name is Gabriela Gesheva, I am originally from Bulgaria but moved to London in 2012 to pursue a degree in photography. I studied at University of East London and I am graduating this year with a first class honours.

What is your artist statement for ‘Homeland’?

Homeland is a long term documentary photo essay that depicts the everyday life of the last generation of elderly people from Oreshak, a small village in the heart of Bulgaria. The series of photographs documents their closeness to the land and their manual labour as part of their everyday struggle for survival, which brings a new reality to our often idealised notion of self-sufficiency. Homeland reveals a way of life based on cultural old - traditional, rural values through photographs of goats’ milking and cheese making as well as, of a continuously changing landscape. This way of life is at times idyllic, yet often very harsh.

What/who do you think your main influences are?

For every project that I pursue I try to research and get inspired from different photographers, artists and even painters such as Rembrandt. This project was no different. There are couple of documentary photographers that work influenced me for this project such as Tessa Bunney and her project ‘Hand to Mouth’. I was inspired by the way Bunney approached and explored the lives of the villagers in a small Romanian Village through her square portraits and landscape images.

The work of another photographer I found interesting and inspiring is that of Diàna Markosian and her documentary Project ‘1915’. What influenced me here is her emotional connection with the subject, which I think is something really important if you want to produce a good documentary project.

Last but not least for me to pursue this project my main influence were my great grand parents, which are no longer amongst us and my grand parents. Since I was little I have been engrossed by the way they achieve life through hard manual labour. Even today with the world being so advanced nothing has changed for my grand parents or for the villagers in this small village. I find this fascinating and want to show the world the simplicity of their lives. The way they live is idyllic yes, but I know how hard it can actually be. I was influenced by the way they understand life and happiness.

How do you work when shooting a series?

For me to achieve this project on time I needed to make a really good plan and to follow it. It is not easy working in series. I was here at London working on this project and I had to go back to Bulgaria a couple of times to be able to shoot. Each time I went back I knew in my head what I wanted to shoot and where. I know the village really well, I grew up there after all. This was my only advantage. What really helped me was having ready storylines - pieces of paper with explanations of how I want to shoot the portraits, which people I want to include, where I need to go to take the landscapes and what still life shoots I need to look for. This really helped me. After each Photoshoot I used to go home and look at the images. I would a pick a few, print them, put the on the floor and then go and do the other photoshoot. At the end of each of my trips I had all the images needed for me to complete my storyline. It’s all about looking at the big picture. It is good to plan but sometimes its good to let go too. This is what I learned the most shooting a series for this project.

The series includes portraiture and landscapes, what was the technical side to this project?

‘Homeland’ is a project really close to my heart. Is the place I come from, its my homeland and I wanted to show it. I wanted to show the people of this village and how they achieve life, but I believe this would be impossible if I didn’t show the surrounding landscape. The photo essay explores the connection people have with the land and I believe showing this particular land will give the viewer a clear and full understanding of the project and the place itself. The project includes beautiful, rural landscapes, which again show us the simplicity of life.

What is your connection to the subjects?

As I said the place I photograph is my home. I was born and raised there. It means the world to me. My connection with the place and the people is really strong and emotional. This was the only project I wanted to shoot for my final year. Since I moved to London I started seeing how deeply entrenched in my heart is my homeland. I felt homesick for this small village and the people so many times. It was hard to try and control all those emotions while shooting. I wanted to show the rural life of the people because this is how I remember it since I was little but I also wanted to show how happy those people are living with what they have. There have been many photography projects showing the poverty of my country and I wanted to change that. I wanted to show something different - the idyllic life, the simplicity of happiness and the never changing surroundings.

How do you want the viewer to responded to this project?

I want the viewer the see and feel what I do when they look at my series - I want them to think of their Homeland. I want them to appreciate the simplicity of life, to understand the hard labour and to see people’s happiness living this way. We live in a world that is changing so fast and this project shows exactly the opposite. A village that is stuck in time. Is this such as bad thing after all? As I said in my artist’s statement I want this project to bring a new reality to our often idealised notion of self-sufficiency.

What are your plans for the future?

Now that I have finished my studies I look forward to my graduation and then to start working on new and exciting projects and collaborating with other photographers and artists. I want to pursue a career as a documentary photographer. After this project I can now see that photography itself isn’t enough. In this project my role shifted from being just the photographer to active participant. Meeting all those people that I remember from my childhood changed me but it also changed them. They knew they were not forgotten. I’ve been to each of these homes at least a dozen times. In some cases I spent almost a whole day at their houses—listening to their stories, helping them. For me very little is about photography now. It is about giving something back. I wanted to establish a relationship where I was more than a photographer - I really wanted to give back. I want to continue giving back with every documentary project I pursue. I believe that that photography is a weapon, a really powerful one.

I will also exhibit my work ‘Homeland’ end of November at the Showroom Gallery in Silvertown. I am starting a new exciting project very soon and there are few internships I look forward to one of them being part of Gallery Six, at the Truman Brewery from January 2017. I am also considering some advertising jobs but mostly I want to keep shooting and keep producing interesting documentary projects.

What is the best piece of advice you could give the viewers of The Pupil Sphere?

It doesn't matter where you come from, it doesn't matter what part of the world you were born. The thing that matters the most is how much you want to succeed. This is something my parents told me. If you put enough effort into the things you do, one day it will pay off. I believe in this. So my advice is to work hard, never stop believing that you can achieve the impossible, to go out and see different exhibitions, artists, galleries, museums and to get inspired. Nothing will come to you, you need to work hard for it. Be brave and put yourself out there. There is nothing to lose.


All images copyright of Gabriela Gesheva.


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