Most of the haunting, dream-like images in Dreamscapes, local photographer Ellie Ivanova’s exhibition at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center (on view through September 29), were shot with a Holga, a plastic toy camera known for producing blurry, vignetted images. It seems to be the perfect tool for Ivanova, who “takes exception to the concept of photography as a truthful representation of reality.”
The talented photographer recently answered questions from CBSDFW.com about Dreamscapes, her workshops for kids in her native Bulgaria, and the photography scene in Dallas / Fort Worth.
CBSDFW.com: How did you get started in photography?
Ellie Ivanova: My background is both in literary research and development. I am from Bulgaria originally, but I lived in Latin America before coming to the US for grad school and contributed to several development projects there. However, it was William Albert Allard’s photograph of a crying Peruvian shepherd boy who had lost his sheep to a taxi hit that made me turn to photography as a medium. That photo, published in the National Geographic, was so powerful that it moved readers to donate money to replace the sheep and build a school in that village. Although literature is one of the fundamental ways to understand a culture and the human experience in general, photography transcends language barriers and has an amazing potential to influence the world for the better.
CBSDFW.com: Can you tell us about Dreamscapes, your show at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center? How did the series come about?
EI: The series started with a toy camera, Holga, and its capability to produce blurred, vignetted, and sometimes distorted images. It was the perfect way for me to convey the emotional blur between reality and imagination. We rarely have the opportunity, in our daily life, to step aside and think about our emotional insights on reality and about everyday objects that hold such a significance in the way we process it. This exhibit, built almost entirely on common metaphors we associate with dreams, such as flying birds, aims to remind us of that extra layer of reality. And also invite viewers to look at the everyday with their inner eyes, which can also change the world.
CBSDFW.com: On your website, you mention leading photography workshops for kids in Roma/Gypsy communities in Bulgaria. Can you tell us about the goals and the results? Do you plan on holding more of these workshops?
EI: Gypsy communities in Europe and in Bulgaria in particular are still marginalized and their culture, aspirations, point of view is generally ignored, often mocked and distorted. I thought that the opportunity, especially for kids, to be able to express to the wider society how they see themselves and their world would be helpful in overcoming prejudices. And it would benefit kids themselves, too, because photography is a tool that forces you to look harder around you at what you take for granted and find beauty in the seemingly insignificant. It would help them to find their own voice and the self-confidence that comes when you are heard. I called them Third Eye Workshops to honor the concept of the third eye as a symbol of enlightenment in the Indian tradition, where Roma/Gypsies came from, and to remind us all of the power of photography to capture the elusive essence of everything.
These workshops started in the summer of 2010 in two Bulgarian cities without any external funding, yet they attracted the interest and enthusiasm of many people and organizations. Many private citizens in Bulgaria donated cameras to be used by the kids, offered help with publicity or just encouragement. There was an exhibition in Sofia that attracted a lot of attention. The interest of so many individuals who contributed made me really hopeful that this project has the potential to change the attitudes of mainstream society towards Roma people.
A joint exhibition of my own photography in those communities along with the kids’ took place recently at Tarrant County College’s Northeast Campus in Hurst. This was a great chance to see how distinct their point of view was from mine, [even when] looking and photographing the same places and people. I was the outsider while they were much freer to approach their own environment. I am really looking forward to continuing this project and all contributions of used cameras are very welcome!
CBSDFW.com: What do you think about the local arts scene in Dallas / Fort Worth? Do you think there’s a dynamic photography scene here?
EI: Although smaller compared to other big cities, Dallas / Fort Worth has a vibrant photography scene and I am glad to have the chance to be here and participate in this creative exchange. Besides the local photography galleries, the most important of which are Afterimage and Photographs Do Not Bend, there are great photography programs at local universities. I would like to mention Tarrant County College’s program where I myself have had the chance to learn a lot. All these make for a very productive art environment. Texas itself offers a very receptive audience and interesting people and places to get to know through photography.
Dreamscapes is on view at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center through September 29, 2011.
Fort Worth Community Arts Center
1300 Gendy Street
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Hours: Mon-Fri 9am-5pm; Sat 10am-5pm; Sun Closed
Interview by Stephanie Valera, CBS Local