The Stoyanovs
From the collection of Imaginary Archive :: 15.03 - 30.03 :: 2018

Contemporary Space and SYNTHESIS Gallery present

The Stoyanovs
Exhibition of Found Photography
from the Collection of Imaginary Archive

15 – 30 March, 2018
Opening: 15 March, 19:00

It is surprising at how many places the “found photography” can be found: at flea markets, in antique shops, garage sales, discarded state or private archives, in waste containers…

This type of photography is not of interest to official archives; it is not defined as art; it has no commercial value, and is an exact antipode to propaganda photography.

In recent years, archive selections comprising thousands, even millions of photographs taken by anonymous authors are making start in being presented at the most prestigious photographic exhibitions and festivals, in galleries and museums.

The great interest in found photography is the result of successful projects such as: The Archive of Modern Conflict, Beijing Silvermine by Thomas Sauvin, and the collections of Joachim Schmid, Jean-Marie Donat, Sébastien Lifshitz, Thomas Walther, Claude Ribouillault and Peter Cohen. Their work is shown in museums such as Tate Modern and MoMA, takes part in festivals such as Rencontres d’Arles and even takes its place in the largest gallery photographic fair – Paris Photo.

Imaginary Archive is the most popular archive of found photography in Bulgaria. It contains more than 10,000 photographic films, slides, paper copies, and photo albums – found, donated or bought at the flea market. Created more than five years ago by Tihomir Stoyanov, a Bulgarian collector and lover of memories, the archive offer a unique photographic portrait of the socialist society ranging from the first TV sets to the first color photographs. At the end of 2016, Tihomir created an Instagram profile of “The Stoyanovs”, where he published photographs of the everyday life of an imaginary socialist family. Their photographic memories are the focus of this exhibition.

Is there really such a family?
The elapsed time makes this question irrelevant. The displayed photographs and objects document the imaginary on the border with the existing and the unknown. The viewer can recognize his own memories or the photographs can take him to times when the place of each picture was in a frame or in a leather album.

The memories of the Stoyanovs are memories of many Bulgarian families. Memories of times when the dark and bright moments were in black and white.

In Tihomir Stoyanov’s opinion, the moments people wish to remember are related to the same experiences, regardless of the change of generations: newborn babies, birthdays, and gatherings with friends, relatives and colleagues, trips close and distant.

How have foreign albums, negatives and photographic copies reached Imaginary Archive?

What is the way they have travelled before they reach the shelves and drawers of the archives of found photography?

Why do we need to save the memories of others?

Timothy Prus, the creator of The Archive of Modern Conflict, says: “People have photos and then there’s some break in the narrative; they die, the next generation doesn’t want them, people moving on get rid of pictures. Whether it’s a family member getting rid of an album or a press archive depositing the lot into a skip in the street it’s pretty much a sign of dynamic change… I just think it’s important to keep as much of the original context together as is humanly possible because otherwise people will forget… I think there is some curious relationship between the way we forget and cultural change. Because we’re living in a dynamic very fast moving society that amnesia is built in as a motor almost.”

Imagine that somebody in the distant future would like to look at our ordinary memento photos…

Those are gathered and kept by people like Tihomir Stoyanov who has once been given a simple advice by his father: “Take it, you may need it.”

However, the interest of renowned curators, museum custodians, gallerists, publishers and collectors in archives of the so-called vernacular photography, a term that includes not only found photography but also photography of a well-known author that has not been shot with artistic intentions, dates far back in time.

In 1893, the English writer E.E. Cohen expressed his dissatisfaction with the very rapid popularization of photography, which: “created an army of photographers who run rampant over the globe, photographing objects of all sorts, sizes and shapes, under almost every condition, without ever pausing to ask themselves, is this or that artistic?”

As early as the 1970s, John Szarkowski, who at that time had been the curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, paid special attention to anonymous photography in his publications: “Painting was difficult, expensive, and precious, and it recorded what was known to be important. Photography was easy, cheap and ubiquitous, and it recorded anything… And once made objective and permanent, immortalized in a picture, these trivial things took on importance. By the end of the century, for the first time in history, even the poor man knew what his ancestors had looked like…” Certainly, the truth is that a major number of photographs are taken by unskilled amateurs, commercial laborers, half-sober reporters, celebrity pursuers or real estate brokers rather than photographers of pure and clear artistic intentions, suggesting that the first group has created many pictures that are intriguing to those of us who are excited about how photography looks and how it can contain and convey meaning … Part of the problem is undoubtedly our difficulty in accepting the fact that luck is a great and powerful force in photography; we tend to attach too much importance to the intention because it makes the presentation seem important. I think it would be equally important – and less boring – if we accept the fact that luck works everywhere and that the world would be quite gray without it… “Photography is a system of visual editing… Like chess, or writing, it is a matter of choosing from among given possibilities, but in the case of photography the number of possibilities is not finite but infinite. The world now contains more photographs than bricks, and they are, astonishingly, all different.”

In 1853 the New York Daily Tribune estimated that three million daguerreotypes were being produced that year. Some of these pictures were the product of knowledge and skill and sensibility and invention; many were the product of accident, improvisation, misunderstanding, and empirical experiment.”

The clash between poetic and trivial does not date back to today. The “trivial” photographs taken by anonymous photographers have always had their admirers.

“But whether produced by art or by luck, each picture was part of a massive assault on our traditional habits of seeing.”

Nadezhda Pavlova

Curator, SYNTHESIS Gallery


The exhibition is realized with the financial support of the Kreo Kultura Foundation and Photosynthesis Foundation and can be visited until 30.03.2018.

Imaginary Archive expresses grateful acknowledgements to:
The entire team of Contemporary Space, Photosynthesis Art Center, Nikola Mihov, Nadezhda Pavlova, Momchil Lisichkov, Jameson, Time Heroes, Raketa Rakia Bar, Maria Valkova, Rossen Kuzmanov, Pepi Arbov – Punto, Kaloyan Iliev – Kokimoto, Valeri Gyurov – Gifted Sofia, Svetoslav Draganov, Alexandra Banishka, Desislava Pancheva – Hip Hip Library, Printcenter Photosynthesis, Angel Stoyanov, Elenka Stoyanova, Marina Ivanova, Snezhinka Markova, Natalia Ivanova, Valeria Nikolova, Violeta Georgieva, Lora Dimitrova, Maria Atanasova, Maria Nedeva, Maria Petkova and Kalina Kozareva for their cooperation in making the exhibition happen.