could be collecting them, but I know that the opportunities I come
across here daily would overwhelm metheir ripeness, their
screaming-to-be-seen a disruption. Given my penchant for thoroughness,
I know I'd become unable to stop thinking about them, taking them.
I am a Peace Corps Primary Education Volunteer living in Shoumen,
Bulgaria. I've been in the country since last April, and, for precisely
these reasons, I've used only four rolls of film.
reverence for the imagethe image, insistently present in the
modern world, arguably excessively sohas been with me as long
as I can remember. On receiving the phone call from Peace Corps
informing me of where I'd serve, my immediate reaction after hanging
up was to flip through my atlas and find the place. To see its rivers
veining through, where its heart lived, the neighbors it touched,
whether its vertebrae were made of mountains. Of course this was
only a first impression, basic, a distortion: it was me in the darkened
box of my room, the pin-hole map a tiny aperture, like those earliest
A photograph is a delicate object, so
easily bent, tucked-away-forgotten, lost by the careless. Living
here, I choose to refrain (for the most part) from taking photographs
and instead to record as many of these moments as I can verbally.
I'm also trying to avoid the danger of disproportion, of certain
instants shackled and their importance inflated while others are
ignored, merely depending on whether or not I happen to bring along
Part of my series (only through training,
April to Julyand only part), pictures I didn't take,
-Close-up of the searing cut on my
left middle finger, knuckle-upwards. I did it the night before I
left homesome door-frame collision, me distracted&
it's deep. It will scar. It looks like a torrent you fly over in
an airplane, but with an angry-pink perimeter instead of shore.
-Snap landscape from the bus window,
on the way to the village of Strelchya from Sofia's airport. The
tree line, tall, elegant, like noble old men with admirable posture.
A donkey & cart in the foreground.
-Extreme zooming-in of my 82-year
old host baba's face, her wrinkles like spaces between lines of
text. You should read things there.
-A few quick shots of my first view
of a Bulgarian classroom. Wide patches of wall color where at home
learning aids would hang. Desks in twos instead of individual. A
chalkboard with smeary & mysteriously permanent erase-lines
under illegible writing (the board resists). Kids all over the place,
toothy beaming of third-graders the same wherever you are.
-From below, looking up, a shot of
the statuebust of a man I don't knowbehind the community
center in my town (Batak). It's crumbling & spray-painted with
a Bulgarian word I don't know. Degradation & so much I don't
understand. Politics, switches from Communism. Bulgarians call this
time "The Change."
-View of a Bulgarian typewriter from
straight above, appears to be 30-plus-years old. What words must
have gone through it!
-Wide panorama of the reservoir in
my town, the surreal view of about fifty postcards scattered in
the high weeds by the water. They're dated 1972 & all are scrawled
in Bulgarian by the same hand.
-Knee-height, the morning schoolyard,
7:30 mountain mist, all those students' knees rushing to get through
the front doors. Inspection at this level, because that's what they
seem to be doing to metoo shy to look me in the eyes, although
some say "Hello" passing.
-Just two faded colors framed, shapes
of pale-red & pale-grit brown, texture. The wall of the old
church in Batak, where hundreds of years ago Turks trapped and massacred
Bulgarians, leaving bloody bodies and walls. Religion can drive
people, can create colors good & bad.
-From the side, the desk in my room,
its thick layer of dust, particularly visible in daylight. Dust
collects here so quickly. Mostly dead skin cells. & then I remember
the massacre of the majority of Batak's population. Dust.
-From about twenty feet, a horizontal
shot of this perplexing night-time vista, downtown Pazardjik (near
to Batak) & spotlights left on after vendors have left, stall-after-stall,
glowing & capless liter-bottles filled with varying levels of
dirty water. Intricate-seeming arrangement. I stare until I understand:
flower vendors at the bazaar, saving the water for the next day.
-Diptych, the two groups of old men
who sit at perpendicular corners of Batak's square. Every day, the
bus-stop-bench men & the fountain-bench men, reliable as time.
Like rival teams. How long have they been gathering there?
These images, just a few of many, impressed
me and have been developed. I've used natural illumination the way
photography (light writing) initially intended, but these
photographs continue to develop for me, organically building from
the original print as I learn more about Bulgaria. Perusing my nonexistent
album, I understand which elements have been distorted and why.
My hand did scar, a memory of that torrent of night-before-leaving;
the students would prefer not to sit in pairs; the statue is of
a political leader and the word on it is the name of a football