A Photography Exhibition under the Auspices of Iliana Yotova, Vice President of the Republic of Bulgaria

18/09/2019 - 17/11/2019

The exhibition of documentary photography by the American ethnographer Martin Koenig features 73 pictures from seven Balkan countries with the most pictures from Bulgaria. The album is supplemented by two audio CDs with traditional music.

Who is Martin Koenig?

He is the man who more than fifty years ago discovered Valya Balkanska, a young folk singer from the city of Smolyan, and recorded her singing the folksong Izlel e Delyu Haydutin. Thanks to Koenig, this song was chosen for inclusion on the Golden Record sent into space on Voyager II to bring a greeting from Planet Earth to the Galaxy.

In 1967, the young choreographer and folk dance teacher at a school in Columbia University, New York came to Bulgaria to research traditional Bulgarian music and dance forms. From 1966 to 1979, he visited Bulgaria six times travelling to festivals and gatherings of traditional musicians and dancers throughout the country. He filmed, recorded, and photographed songs, instrumental performances and community celebrations, rituals of remembering the deceased, weddings, landscapes, portraits and traditional costumes.

He recalls his feeling of witnessing a fascinating moment in eternity unreeling before his eyes, a whole culture and society with their traditions and values doomed to be changed profoundly by industrialization and urbanization. Through his work, Martin Koenig captured a valuable snapshot of Bulgarian and Balkan heritage at a very particular moment in time. He also travelled to neighboring Balkan countries. His collection of over 4,000 photographs and hundreds of audio recordings and films has been purchased by the Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum and research complex.

In New York, the ethnographer Ethel Raim and Martin Koenig co-founded the Balkan Arts Center, now the Center for Traditional Music and Dance. With the support from the Smithsonian Institution, this Center became a dedicated advocate for community-based traditional artists, especially those active in urban immigrant ethnic enclaves throughout the United States. Even during the Cold War years, the Center organized festivals of traditional music and dance, conducted fieldwork, invited artists from all over the world to visit the USA, produced documentaries and records with traditional music from the Balkans, including two long-playing vinyl records with music from Bulgaria. Thanks to Martin Koenig, a copy of one of the records was given to Professor Carl Sagan. As a result, the song Izlel e Delyu Haydutin was chosen for inclusion on the Golden Record sent into space on Voyager II.

Iliana Yotova, Vice President of Bulgaria, was greatly impressed by the works of Martin Koenig when Ivo Hadzhimishev, a renowned Bulgarian photographer, took her to Martin’s house on Vashon Island near Seattle, WA. “I found myself in a house filled with the traditions of the Bulgarian National Revival,” she recalls, “but I was also surprised to see sophisticated digital equipment used by the American ethnographer. Now his dedication and love for Bulgaria and Bulgarian heritage is shared by his neighbors on the island as well as by thousands of Americans throughout the country. We are deeply grateful to Martin Koenig for his untiring work to promote awareness and appreciation of the Bulgarian heritage.” The UHER reel-to-reel tape recorder takes us back in time to a small classroom in Smolyan where Martin recorded Valya Balkanska accompanied by two gaida players, Stefan Zahmanov and Lazar Konevski.