Denislav Stoychev captures faces and places so naturally that it's easy to forget that there is a foreign presence, a photographer behind them. Photographs of abandoned buildings make up a large part of his archive, although this is far from the only thing that interests him. But he has been passionate about it ever since he can remember. He thinks of this as a kind of tradition across generations.
"The aesthetics of destruction is what draws me to abandoned buildings." Just as in the Romantic era people, or at least those with enough free time to do so, admired the ruins of antiquity and the Middle Ages, so today, in a world of global digital and cultural connectivity, nostalgics are drawn to post-industrial landscapes," says Denislav Stoychev, who was born in 1992 in Yambol.
He remembers walking through forests and villages as a child with his late grandfather. He realized then the sharp contrast between details from nature and the concrete platforms, electric poles, hanging wires and stables with clouds peeking through the rooftop. "There is something very appealing in scenes of nature re-entering territories formerly occupied by people."
Photographer: Denislav Stoychev / The synagogue in Vidin
Years later, he stumbled upon an old Soviet film called ... Stalker. Andrei Tarkovsky's classic, with its gloomy atmosphere of constant mist, dilapidated buildings, uncontrollable nature and patchy electricity really moved him. "My eyes were glued to it for three hours, and then I was speechless. Then I realized that I was not the only person in the world who was in love with post-industrial decadence." Stoychev defines this attraction as a kind of voyeurism. "It's a desire to peek into other people's lives and workplaces, without the need to actually establish contact with real people. You can also add the adrenaline of the illegal act of breaking in, and here you have the reason for this type of urban exploration.”
Photographer: Denislav Stoychev / Village of General Toshevo
Denislav graduated with a degree in journalism from Sofia University, and later became well known for his work as a photojournalist. Over the last year and a half, he has been caught up in the rhythm of endless assignments, but he is currently focused on his personal projects. "Everyday photojournalism, when it's not an impotent genre that only captures well-powdered official events, inevitably includes the devastation all around us." Denislav picked out photographs to send to us while participating in a festival in Bolgrad, Ukraine (a city founded by Bessarabian Bulgarians), and he sent his answers to my questions on his way back, traveling through Romania.
Is there a place where he found himself entirely outside the usual norms of the present day and everyday life? "Yes, the infamous block 20 in the Roma neighborhood in Yambol."
Photographer: Denislav Stoychev / Village of Tenovo
The building in the Roma neighborhood of the city is so notorious and so often avoided, that locals think you've lost your mind if you decide to enter it. Denislav photographed life inside the building just before its demolition. "The building had no windows, iron fittings protruded from the balconies, there was a pile of rubbish reaching up to the second floor, you could see horse heads sticking out of it, there were fires burning on different floors. When I went inside, the chaos was beyond my expectations. Men were smashing the door frames with hammers and bars, others were defecating in the corridors, children were chasing each other around. And then I found myself in a room whose occupants seemed to expect they would stay there, rather than be evacuated with the others. The bed was covered with a crumpled tablecloth, there was a wall-hanging with Jesus Christ behind it, underneath that there was a chest with artificial flowers in vases on top of it.
And around the building, aggression contrasts with scenes of politeness and kindness. I came back a few more times to photograph the camp made up of huts in the nearby meadows where the displaced residents were living."
Abandoned schools also have their specific melancholy, especially those that have not yet been looted or completely self-destructed.
Photographer: Denislav Stoychev / Block 20 in Yambol
"The atmosphere there is like in the photos from Pripyat before the massive wave of tourists. It feels like they have been closed for a brief period, just for summer break.” This also makes him think about how a place loses its identity and functionality. "When the blackboards disappear, the paintings on the walls fade and the floor collapses, this place is already far enough away from our idea of school. Just another ruin in another village without children." He finds the contrast in how schools are maintained interesting while traveling in Сouthern Ukraine with Mihaela Aroyo, who is photographing Bessarabian Bulgarians in the area.
Photographer: Denislav Stoychev / Yambol
"The roads here look like they've been bombed, the collective farm buildings are gaping and crumbling, the signs are rusty and crooked, but the village schools are freshly whitewashed, there is warm light in the windows, streams of adorable children pour out into the streets in the afternoon."
In the process of traveling, filming and documenting, Denislav finds another surprising nuance of feelings and associations. “Encountering the physical remnants of civilization also gives you the subconscious pleasure of supremacy over this constriction, which has not withstood the test of time. And here you are, still in the world. It's the antithesis of Atanas Dalchev's melancholy observations about how people leave and things stay. In the end, significance rests with creation, not debris. The Romantic age did not last long. Modernity replaced it with its more practical structures.”
More from the photo of Denislav Stoychev on: instagram.com/denislav_stoychev and denislavstoychev.com