Welcome to the world of Gabriela Gesheva – a London based documentary photographer and photojournalist snapping her homeland, people and even sports! This is one powerful lady so do join us in welcoming her to Soapbox Press. You can also find her work on her website, Instagram and Twitter.
Hello Gabriela Gesheva. Is there any meaning behind your Bulgarian surname?
Hello everyone, this is a difficult question to be honest. Back in my home country the way babies are named is really different then here in UK. Usually the first-born child in the family, which in this case was me, has to be named after one of the grandparents. I am named after my granddad, Gesho, who passed away when I was little baby, only three months old from a heart attack. I never had the chance to meet him and because I was so little I don’t remember him at all. I have always seen only pictures of him and heard stories about what a great men he was. He was an amazing person, honest, kind and hard – working. My mum decided that I would be named after him, taking his first late G for ‘Gabriela’ and his whole name, ‘Gesho’ for my surname ‘Gesheva’. It’s a privilege and honor to be named after my granddad, even though I have never meet him; he has a special place in my heart.
Congratulations on graduating earlier this year!! Explain to all that don’t know you what you do for a living now…
Thank you very much; it was an amazing experience. At the moment I am working on a new project that I think will take long time to accomplish. I really want to focus on my photography and creating new work. I think this is really important, when you are an emerging photographer. You just have to keep shooting, researching, visiting exhibitions and so on. I believe there is a lot more to learn in this field. So at the moment I am working at Somerset House in a place called Makerversity, that is really cool and full with creative people, but I am also focusing on my own personal projects and on being noticed as a documentary photographer.
Was the transition that you experienced between being a full time student and what you’re doing now what you expected now it’s done?
There was definitely a transition of being a full time student to being an emerging freelance photographer. Right now my mind is not occupied with deadlines, going to lectures and always trying to stay on top of things. It was hard for me during my three years of education, because I was working mostly 6 days a week. I had to be really organised and like I said to stay on top of everything. I am really proud that I managed to graduate with a 1st honors degree, because of all the hard times and effort I put.
To be completely honest, I have no expectations right now. I know I am entering a competitive field and I know it’s going to be really hard but I think I am ready for it. The only expectations I have are for me is to never let go and never stop being creative. I have more free time to develop my own personal projects, which is great. I believe great work comes with time and not rushing it.
Tell us all about your passion for Documentary Photography – what is it you particularly love about it?
I’ve said this many times – Photography is a weapon, a really powerful one. It can change people’s minds, it can affect lives and in todays developed world. I believe documentary photography is really important to help us shape the way we see the world. When I started working on my project ‘Homeland’ that is shot in Bulgaria, I wanted to show everyone where I come from and the people. With time this project became much more and I believe it affected my whole approach as a documentary photographer. 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. This is why I love documentary photography so much; the power of being able to touch someone’s soul with what you do is unbelievably satisfying.
What we both share is this (and I trust I’m right in saying this) that there is an innate beauty in everyday life that goes without being photographed. Do you agree with this statement?
Yes I of course I do. There are so many beautiful things in our everyday lives, that most of time we miss, because we are constantly on our phones, as well as being too anxious about money or when we are going to go out next with our mates or simply because we are just not looking around us. It is sad, really. I grew up in a completely different way that most kids today do. I used to go out, play and just be free. No social media, no Internet, no phones. I think the way I grew up has affected me a lot and it has shaped the way I see the world. If you have a look at my Instagram stories you can see that I use my phone a lot to photograph small everyday moments that I find interesting or simply beautiful. I love walking. If I get a chance I rather walk then get a train or bus and with walking you can find hidden spots or see things that you were not be able to notice before. It’s all about looking around you and paying attention to the small things that can turn up to be important.
Talk us through your work as a photographer in the big world – how are you going to get an income for the photos you documented?
I know it’s going to be hard and I know I have to put loads of effort and work to be successful and actually get an income out of it. For now I want to focus on my projects and take my time. I want to break through with something I will be proud to show to the world, with something I believe will make people look and make a change. I have no rush, as for example Martin Parr got recognised with his extraordinary work when he was 42 and then he then joined Magnum. I have my dreams and I hope they will become true on day but for now I just want to keep shooting.
Tell us what you say to people within your ‘Portraits’ and ‘Portraits 2.0’. How do you approach them, or is this work purely for study purposes?
On my website you can now find really diverse work. From my travel landscapes to my portraits and project, it is all quite different. I love portrait photography. I love interact with people and photograph them. In my ‘Portraits’ section you can see there are only elderly people. I photographer them back home in Bulgaria. I know all of those people; I remember them since I was little. When I go and photograph someone I don’t just do it with the purpose of photographing them and then leave. I actually sit down and have a conversation with them. Ask them how they’ve been, what are they up to and I always like to go back. I see things differently overtime. Once I feel they are comfortable with me, I can then photograph them. I had some really emotional experiences; when it’s hard to keep in my tears, because of the sad stories those people tell me. There are photographs that I have taken in the most intimate and emotional moments, but these moments define those people for me and it is then that I can see them for whom they actually are.
In my ‘Portraits 2.0’ I have mostly fashion images. Some of them I have just done for my portfolio and others I have shoot as part of projects. Even in my fashion photography you can sense a bit of reality. I don’t like overdoing images. I like to keep things simple and this is what I am doing even with my fashion portraits.
What advice would you give to current third year Photography students who are starting on their final major projects?
Yes there is loads of advice I can give but the one I want to put out there is to always believe in yourself and to do what makes you happy. I believe that photography is really intimate process; all photographers are different. We all see the world differently. If you are doing something that someone else won’t like, don’t get offended by this, just accept the critical feedback and move on. There are loads other people that will like your work.
Always keep improving; always try to be better then what you are right now. I think that’s quite important. Go visit exhibitions, museums, galleries and so on. Always get inspired. If you put enough effort into the things you do, one day it will pay off. I believe in this. Nothing will come to you; you need to work hard for it. Be brave and put yourself out there. There is nothing to lose.