In Conversation With Simeon Georgiev

Simeon is a student of Film Studies at Leeds University, in his second year. He has some surprising observations to make about his experience over the past eighteen months in the City.

Tell me why you chose Leeds.

Nothing ever drove my interest directly to Leeds; my A-level work had exhausted me from any possible excitement I could have had. Leeds appeared more significant – an escape from the slow, content cycle of home life. I was probably pursuing the romanticized portrayal of a big city environment.

I think that being nervous and chasing a constant, uncomfortable state of mind is what makes me better at the creative aspect of things. Actively seeking out fear is the approach I accept to create something so reactionary and echoing of how I am and what I am at that very precise moment in time.

I was uneasy but that only made it better. The North has a reputation for being cheaper – I had some northern friends who probably preceded my initial judgments. I wasn’t going to miss much of the drowsy haze that covered my little town – but the idea of no stability intimidated me. I was always fine with maintaining a strong social circle or a consistently fulfilled academic workflow – never both at once. University was the cliche new beginning; Leeds happened to be the random response to that concept.

Has your perception of Leeds as a City changed since you began your university degree course and if so, can you explain the difference?

My degree and a lot of the extended humanities that I’ve studied over the past year and a half have taught me how to read individuals. I think your perception of a place or experience with a specific timeframe is often characterised by the people; when you’re able to read people, things become so much clearer. The degree is the distant beacon that attracted this style of photography – mindlessly walking around the same places puts practice into play. Throughout the work I’m producing, a lot of the Leeds’ colour has begun to present itself to me. My subjects can appear melancholy, satisfied or even bored – but they often present a powerful reflection of the City’s current temper.

Every single individual feels like a small character trait to the greater ecosystem that is Leeds – the more you get to know these characteristics, the more personal your experience will be. From what I observe, the City has a far infinitely diverse set of stories than I originally expected. I remember it feeling bigger, or maybe just unfamiliar for the time being. Everything seems so unapologetically itself; I went from treating my university life as a transition point into something more significant to feeling like I have established a home far separate from my previous life.

What prompted you – what inspired you – to begin your documentary photography in the City?

I went into this part of my life thinking that I would pursue something within the film industry. A cinematography job was what I wanted to follow going into uni. I wanted to continue being practical (something my degree didn’t offer), but money is always this lingering problem. I flirted with the idea of getting back into illustration, but I found it hard to pick it up. A friend and I began writing some short stories that called for an in-depth understanding of intermediate cinematography. We wanted to achieve the nuanced horror technique of Stanley Kubrick – an exercise that had introduced me to his previous photography work.

It made sense that I could explore photography with the intention that one day, I could transition these skills into the world of cinematography. Through this, I found out that Kubrick shot Leica cameras – so I began exploring the rich history of Leica photographers. When filtering my research, I uncovered the name Gary Winogrand. I quickly discovered that he predominantly shot street photography. Others may call it photojournalism or documentary photography. Each photograph felt so explosive and unnatural to me. The content of his work appeared so disgustingly inappropriate. It felt like the offensive reality that is constantly obtruded by the perfections of cinema or reality TV. I would imagine that the immediacy of this process intrigued my then-busy social life, creating work that eliminated the use of studio spaces or demand for high-grade camera equipment that fit within my reality. With time, I began studying everything I could about this medium. I became a fan before I shot my first photo.

The process is still growing. The story has become so much greater than I could’ve ever expected it to be. If you ask the future me, I imagine that my reasons for this style of documenting the life around me have changed. I feel too close to the bigger picture to dissect all the little ins and outs that make me wake up every day and pick up my camera. An apparent lack of intimacy could be one explanation. I believe that I can sometimes lack these needed interactions, so I began seeking familiarity and understanding inside the everyday person.

In what ways do you believe you’ve made progress with your craft?

Making a picture far more interesting than what you’re photographing is something crucial. I’ve stopped giving explanations for how I’ve taken certain shots – I want the work to feel distant from any logical explanation one could derive from the visual codes presented to them. I am becoming more patient, taking fewer photos, and thinking about the composition as a whole.

It is probably too early to talk about any crazy improvements from when I first started. I’m more aware of my surroundings and I can focus my camera much quicker – meaning that I land certain shots far better than before, but that’s just the general process. I would argue that I am a lot more committed than I was three or four months ago.

Dedication goes a long way. If you can push through all the terrible rolls of film you get back and still drag yourself outside – only to make the same mistakes repeatedly, I would call that progress.

You have a passion for photography, for creating a permanent and evolving record of the cultural nature of the City of Leeds. How do you determine what is personal and what is professional in your work?

All the work is personal – even with some of the professional work I’ve done, I have always tried to make it personal to me. If someone decides to give my catalogue the light of day, that would be incredible – but I will never attempt to alter my approach to photography with the intention of attracting more professional work. I want everything I do to feel like an extension of me; evolving a style and making everything feel intimate scratches the itch.

An example of this could be the photography work I did for the university RAG fashion show. I wasn’t planning on participating, but some photographers dropped out, so I was given the gig. Digital cameras are infinitely better at shooting low-light scenarios. I didn’t want to just shoot the runway, so I had to decide how I wanted to present this space. Daniel Arnold‘s Met Gala work inspired me to bring the energy of the streets inside those cramped rooms. I was creating objective photographs, in fake worlds. Glamour and sex appeal were on the agenda, but I was far more interested in the weird dullness of it all. I’m not counting on the idea that every job I take will have this loose freedom – but I want people to be attracted to my line of work because they understand the specifics of my visual language.

Does every image mean something to you on a personal level, or do you see it through others’ eyes?

Some images mark various milestones, but I don’t spend too much time looking at the individual photos. After I release 5 to 8 photographs in a curated batch, I move on. My previous self had this lingering fear that some photos offered a lack of explanation. I knew that they looked the part and had a particular quality to them – but I wasn’t sure how I could go about explaining why they deserved to be ‘good’. A lot of artists get lost in this self-indulgent cycle of figuring out every last detail about their work; I would spend countless hours reasoning out an explanation for some images in case anyone was ever curious to ask about their substance.

When I look at the rapid approach I now take, I just simply don’t have the time to do that any more. Like I’m not above it or anything – I would just rather take more photos. In this way, you authorize the audience to do the work for you. If someone is truly fixated with your output, they will create their own meaning for certain shots. I adore the work of Josef Koudelka, but I can’t say that I have ever listened to that man talk about his own photos. Meaning or reason can be produced by people who share these common interests and communicate their views for this greater tapestry of justifications, separate from the artist’s initial interpretation. I am not worried about having this personal connection with all the photos I decided are worthy of some attention. I know that someone out there will probably do a better job of giving meaning to something I can’t yet comprehend.

What about videography? Currently or planned?

Videography has its benefits. I’ve had various successes with some student films in the past, so I’m not completely ruling it out. My focus is very much concentrated on one consistent pivot at any given moment. I don’t think that I could have this unhealthy obsession with photography whilst also working with moving pictures. The minimal hands-on approach of my film camera eliminates a lot of the boring digital stuff that I find so exhausting with videography – it feels like people become slaves to the technology they use.

I certainly have a lot of fictional stories that I want to tell, but that doesn’t mean that videography is the only medium that permits that side of my creativity. Constructing stories or obscure narratives from the street work constantly dictates my appreciation of a photo. You have the power of saying so much with one frame – why start complicating yourself with a video format?

You have a way to go before you complete your degree course. What about your next steps whilst you’re still a student?

It’s fun to stop and look at everything I am achieving at this given point, but I always seem to gravitate back to work. I get bored very easily. I have this constant impulse that directs me to take more and more photos every day.

I am probably going to take advantage of all the spare time I get. I’m fairly confident with my coursework and never dedicate copious amounts of my time to essay assignments. Building more relationships with friends, growing my contact list and seeking out frightening scenarios that force me out of my comfort zone are on my current to-do list – I will plan the evolution of my style around those checkpoints.

Whilst Leeds obviously has so much to offer, where do you see yourself after graduation?

Going back to this notion of a ‘process’, I find it very hard to imagine what life after graduation is going to be like. One minute I was sitting at home being very lazy with my spare time, and the next – I was walking around for 4 to 6 hours a day taking pictures of random individuals (a lot can change). It would be nice to name some goals and look back at this interview, but I’m not sure how I can begin to explain success. An exhibition of my work would mean the world or even more recognition from photographers who shoot similar work. Money is not a driving factor; I would still spend all of my student loan on film and processing even if the photography had no ‘portfolio’ value.

I just want people to connect with my art – I never get tired of talking about how this has changed my life. A possible job as a photographer for any institution would be the dream job – but the work doesn’t just stop if these things don’t happen right away. If I can remain in Leeds, that would be great – but I just want to travel. I have an idea of dedicating some time after university to a personal project that will possibly document my home country (Bulgaria). I want to follow in the footsteps of Robert Frank‘s The Americans, a large body of work that summarises the conflicting pulses of the forever-changing Bulgarian landscape.

What advice would you give to anyone coming from outside our region to take Film Studies in Leeds? I suppose what I’m asking is, what do you realise would have been useful for you to know from day one?

Decide what exactly you want to gain from your course. The understanding of film theory is kind of a surface-level bonus for me. Through my degree, I have achieved a lot of secondary accomplishments that aren’t really advertised to anyone.

Everyone’s experience is different, but we all share the freedom of our campus space and the ability to get lost in other worlds that aren’t exactly tied to our learning. Humanities are an integral part of comprehending the various social boundaries that dictate a lot of my photography. Your degree can be translated into several different practices.

In the beginning, I would have loved to see my education as this 4-dimensional outlet that could inspire all these other venues. You are never just subjected to what’s in your lectures – go out and rectify the shortcomings of your classes by creating work for yourself. Practicality was never really advertised for my course, but I still wanted to keep creating art.

Film Studies is a great tool that I have utilized when exploring my thoughts, while photography has been the visual vocabulary that represents that.

“Dedication goes a long way. If you can push through all the terrible rolls of film you get back and still drag yourself outside – only to make the same mistakes repeatedly – I would call that progress.” Simeon Georgiev

All photography by Simeon Georgiev. Main image: Simeon

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