Nikola Mihov: meet the photographer exploring the forgotten communist-era monuments of Bulgaria

Nikola Mihov’s first edition of Forget Your Past, a series exploring the communist-era monuments on the territory of Bulgaria, studies the past and present histories of these enormous constructions, which nowadays function only as reminders of a discarded history

6 December 2017

Nikola Mihov is a Bulgarian photographer based between Sofia, Bulgaria and Paris, France. Mihov’s work has been nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography prize and the Kassel Dummy Award. His photography has been exhibited internationally in various exhibitions and festivals including ncluding Les Rencontres d’Arles, La Nuit de la Photo in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland and The Festival of Young European Photography Circulation(s) in Paris.

Back in 2012, Nikola Mihov published the first edition of Forget Your Past, a series exploring the communist-era monuments on the territory of Bulgaria. The work studies the past and present histories of these enormous constructions, which nowadays function only as reminders of a discarded history. Even though many monuments have been dismounted and taken down since the political system changed in 1989, hundreds still remain. Most of the archives related to their history have been destroyed over time, which was one of the motivations for the photographer to start this project. He travelled across the country and conducted interviews with sculptors, architects and local individuals, trying to piece the information and stories back together; the results of this studies could be seen in his photo book.

“One artist even decided to install it on a traffic light in the centre of Varna”

At this year’s Sofia Art Book Fair, Nikola invited 30 Bulgarian and international artists to respond to Forget Your Past, giving them a copy and the freedom to do whatever they want to it. Some of the participating artists turned the pages of the book into collages or sculptures, while others used the book as a starting point for their own video works and performances. The illustrators, painters, photographers, designers and graffiti artists changed the theme in one way or another. The photobook was turned into a cookbook, an encyclopaedia of popular chalga music, or a time capsule that was buried in someone’s front yard. One artist even decided to install it on a traffic light in the centre of Varna.

Mihov did not only participate in the first Sofia Art Book Fair, he also happens to be one of the guest curators. The fair showcased contemporary art books, self-published photobooks and independent publishing from around the word. The festival’s objectives are to create a platform for the development and distribution of art books and independent publishing in Bulgaria, as well as to present established authors and books to a Bulgarian audience. This year the fair was supported by the Sofia Council and the Capital’s Culture programme. The programme included talks by guest publishers and photographers as well as photobook market and exhibitions. Mihov is also one of the creators of the new photobook platform PUK! which aims to form a library of photobooks and pop-up photobook store in Bulgaria. The platform PUK! organises events for photobooks and talks with authors, publishers and collectors. The aims of the first Bulgarian photobook platform are to promote the publishing of photobooks in Bulgaria and create a space for them within the current art scene.

Mihov has helped launch a number of organisations, all supporting the development of arts within Bulgaria. He is co-founder of Bulgarian Photography Now, the only national platform that gathers contemporary photography projects by Bulgarian photographers and foreign ones who have created works in Bulgaria. The organisation aims to showcase different projects exploring the multiple realities within the county and the creative paths of the photographers themselves around the world. The organisation is in partnership with the three international photography festivals Month of Photography, Bratislava, Circulation(s) – Festival of Young European Photography, Paris и Nuit de la Photo, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, where they show the work of different artists featured on the platform’s website.

One of Mihov’s more unnusual projects is the SOCMUS archive – the first virtual museum that presents various selections of Bulgarian graphic design from the socialist era is another of Nikola’s projects. Valeri Gurov, Martin Angelov, Michael Bordat and Nikola Mihov’s main idea was to preserve the works of the past despite their context and background and create an accessible online archive of the designs of posters, covers, advertisements, stamps, books and logos. At the moment, they are buying collections of posters and books and have gathered around 4000 artefacts so far. The museum’s collections have already participated in seven exhibitions. the last of which was in LE BAL gallery, Paris. The archive was also published in the book Iron Curtain Graphics by Gestalten and Presenting Shakespeare by Steven Heller.

The photographer showed his latest photobook Processing…, as part of Paris Photo. The photo book, from French publisher Innocences, will be presented for the first time in Bulgaria in April 2018.

Through his photography and cultural initiatives, Mihov intends to build links between the past and present of Bulgarian history and arts, as well as introducing new ideas and art mediums to the contemporary photography scene.

Text: Krasimira Butseva