Vernissage on 28 April, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
From the Hristo Botev quarter in Sofia to the Cova da Moura and Amadora ghettos on the outskirts of Lisbon in Portugal, Nikolay Milanov creates powerful photographic portraits of people from the so-called vulnerable groups living on the streets. A social worker by profession and vocation, Milanov meets the heroes of his photographs during his work shifts while providing them with assistance, always lending a helping hand and with an open heart. It is his work among representatives of our society who live in severe social and domestic conditions or lead a life on the street that determines his photographic interest and choice of subject matter.
By 2021, some 100 million of the world’s population were living without a roof over their heads. In the local context, the centres for crisis accommodation of homeless people in Bulgaria are often unable to accommodate the large number of men and women who, especially during the long winter nights, remain in the embrace of the cold. Some of the serious challenges and problems they encounter in their street life include social stigma, and physical and mental harassment.
The ‘Pandemonium’ exposition is influenced by the epoch of Romanticism and inspired by John Milton’s epic poem, ‘Paradise Lost’. The 18 large-format portraits featured were taken ‘on-site’, without prior staging—the result of over 15 years of Nikolai Milanov’s ‘wandering’ on the streets of cities in Bulgaria and abroad in search of personae embodying his concept of ‘paradise lost’.
At the core of the exhibition lies the idea of the dualistic world in which we live. Placing a question mark after the definitions of good and evil, as well as reconsidering the meaning of the pairs of concepts ‘above-below’, ‘dark-light’ and, of course, ‘hell-heaven’, are at the heart of the photographer’s philosophical reflections on the world—a lasting element in his oeuvre .
Nikolay Milanov (b. 1972) graduated in Social Activities from St Kliment Ohridski Sofia University. Professionally engaged in photography since 2005, he has been repeatedly selected to present his work in national and international competitions, as well as in Photo Forum annual albums. His photographs have been included in UNICEF and CANON BULGARIA publications. He currently works the Sofia Municipality directorate for ‘Integration of People with Disabilities, Projects and Programmes’. His images formed part of the visual identity that accompanied the information campaigns of The Global Fund for Children, UNICEF, and Tuberculosis Programmes financed by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. He has worked with photographers Lee Jeffries, Svetlana Bahchevanova and Charlotte Oеstervang on projects of markedly social thematics. Nikolay Milanov’s photo portraits are displayed in private galleries and collections in Great Britain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, and the USA. In 2019, his first solo exhibition, ‘Traces of Streets’, was arranged in the Sofia City Library, and later presented at the 13th Step Gallery in Burgas. In 2016, he took part in the exhibition ‘Childhood with No Address, organised by the Children and Adolescents Association, shown in Sofia’s City Garden.
The colour photographic portraits in this exhibition are of people who, in one way or another, have not progressed their life course according to the views and standards of society, and have been to a certain extent marginalised. Many of them are from the ‘backyard’ of society, with ‘harmful’ habits, and leading a life on the street.
The images are processed with a chromaticity characteristic of the ‘old masters’. With the help of these means of expression, I wish to achieve a modern perusal of the images, placing them in ‘a Rembrandt light’ and colouring. My goal is for them to be seen by society in an unexpected and even slightly disturbing way. Some have a ‘biblical appearance’ and their whole lives are written all over their faces. They have been in a constant struggle with good and evil in themselves; often, evil has taken priority… They struggled with their internal contradictions and they themselves were contradictory and strange. Most of them are people who, in one way or another, have wasted their lives and are aware of the mistakes they have recurrently made. Others were unjustly ‘stigmatised’… With my having had the opportunity to observe them for many years, they began at some point to remind me of ‘lost angels’ or ‘fallen angels’ or, in other words, the characters of John Milton.
When I photograph people I meet on the street, I try to be empathetic and sympathetic to their fate. I define my portraits as psychological. I make them from the inside out in order to capture the soul and character of the subject. Since these people cannot be ‘rehabilitated’, I promised to include them in an exhibition.