My name is Panayot Savov and I teach Public Buildings in Architecture at University. I am in my late thirties, I live in Sofia, Bulgaria where I am originally from.
In your own words, what do you do?
I like to think that I am a little bit of a stalker – in Tarkovsky’s poetic notion – as I drag in weird things in everyday reality and see how they are evolving out of their native context. It so happens that camera obscura photography is one of those weird things. I have these two approaches to the subject. First and most common, taking pinhole images lets my mind rest. There is a lot of physical effort around taking a pinhole shot and I don’t mind it as soon as it lets my mind rest, and it does. In most cases I just place a box without thinking too much, I pretend that someone else asked me to do something technically, to bring a tripod, to measure the sunlight, to open and close the ‘shutter’ properly, and I just do it.
But it is not me exactly, it is a way of not making any decisions. Most of the time those images produced are quite ordinary and if there is something in them, it is a surprise, and I am definitely not responsible.
The second approach is quite the opposite. It occupies my whole mind, I get really excited and eager, so I do it only on special occasions like birthdays (not joking), or WWPD, or when I really need to get a special thought out, an idea–out of my mind, as ideas if kept for too long can poison us irreversibly. To be clear here, an idea is not a visual thing because commonly visuals are already planted into us, they are manufactured - as David Lynch would have put it if we were to be part of that small Twin Peaks society.
Why do you do what you do?
I guess I answered within the text above already, for the ‘what do I do’ question, without noticing. Those are the best answers one can possibly give–the ones that are not noticed in the process, the side products of explaining something else.
What’s integral to your practice?
I can’t say exactly, there are too many things that could qualify as integral, but whatever I’d say in the next lines would be in the way of trying to get out of myself and to analyze myself as in an out-of-body experience, surely not astral one. I do not have a prepared answer to that, I am improvising. One way to look at it would be to point out that there are no people in my images and pinhole photography is definitely suitable for it. A few years ago I participated in a local photographic competition; I own this big studio Mamiya RB67 and I dragged it out in the most social streets of Sofia but in quite dead hours–between 6 AM and 7 AM on a Saturday, in the summer, I believe. No people. In the end of his conclusive speech the chairman of the competition jury–a recipe taught photo reporter with a lots of years of practice in his own words–said that every photograph should have people in it, that people make a photo what it is. I can’t remember the poor guy’s name but when you come across such a narrow-minded model of looking at photography it works as a sign that you are on quite a right path.
It gives me time, as much as I want, meaning that it gives me another way of looking at time, it presents me to time. The whole pinhole matter is a slow media and its really slow metabolism provides the opportunity of experiencing time in a different way (I realize this sounds like cliché). We experience the world in fragments, images, objects, which are getting faster and faster but still very differentiated from one another, we are starting to get more and more animalisticly responsive which deprives us from our imagination abilities; magic is absent. Opposed to that pinhole can possibly make you think in processes and thus expose your hibernating dreamy side back to you. You cannot see the whole spectrum of sun-paths by looking at the sky even if you have the patience and an iron retina, but solargraphic images show you exactly that burnt routes for the last six months, and from there you can start fantasizing about them. If a single solargraph is the answer to a riddle, what would be that riddle exactly?
Are there any particular themes you pursue with your practice?
Friends of mine used to tell me I like to register mostly trees and public housing buildings of the Soviet era, within my images. I think they got the impression by this big number of failures in my tryouts to find and capture emotional, dispositioned space. If I have to talk of a particular theme, yes, it will probably be space–forbidden, abandoned, transforming space that is likely not to be there the next time you visit it, or at least not in the form that you remember it. I will not get too long here but imagine a camera obscura as what it actually is–a separated camera, a dark secret chamber, a movable simple black box. Such a structural division defines a basic architectural ‘building’ bit here–the opposition of the inner to the outer. I am deeply fascinated by this not only as a trained architect but because as basic as it may seem, it opens great possibilities of constructing stories or metaphors–not in terms of architecture; architecture is only a reflection, it is an end product, an answer and rarely a question, a museum rather than a gallery.
Has your practice change over time? If so, how?
It gets more primitive and primitive. In time I have purchased quite a few film cameras and accessories, including pinhole ones made out of fancy wood, with precisely laser-drilled holes and so on, but I find that during the last years as I do not have so much time to take images, controversially I would rather make most things needed for such a photograph by myself, as a lonely ritual. And it is not about accommodating any box for a camera obsucra (although honestly, I always keep some beer cans for that purpose), it is about making a box from basic materials such as paper, cardboard, plywood, etc. It is probably a therapeutical approach, including the drilling of the tiny hole.
Is there a specific piece you’re particularly proud of? And why?
If talking of a camera, I love my medium format 6x6 Noon Pinhole from Poland, but it works with film, and I would like to go back to paper at least. A few months ago I got some Toyo 4x5 double sheet film holders, so one Sunday I had to make a camera for them with two of my students. The whole collaboration result leaked light heavily, and I am not sure if it is the camera or the holders, but I am truly surprised in the positive way by this leakage. It is authentic, and it is not me at all; it allows me not to be perfect. I feel like I have to make an analogy with a music project, and this would be the first album by an artist/producer Gonjasufi (A Sufi And A Killer from 2010): really dirty sound, like out of a demo, but very raw and personal, yet really authentic and deeply poetic. If you accept the mess, treasures await beyond.
From whom do you draw the most inspiration?
I really can’t say, but surely I would prefer not to refer to certain people here, although you surely find some names within this text feature. There are so many culturally bizarre things all around that I feed myself with. Probably I draw the most inspiration from a little bit of philosophy digested and split back in the form of classic cinema. Yummy. As Slavoj Zizek had put it once, in order to understand today’s world, we need cinema, literally. I’d add it is almost like being John Cusack in the end of Being John Malkovich. Well, in a nuanced voyeuristic way, not to be so sad as in the movie.
What’s your dream project?
To take pinhole pictures in Pripyat with Tarkovsky. No, really, it is a great dream, I could never achieve it as the guy is dead, and I am not sure that I would want to achieve it as I have read somewhere that Andrei was not exactly the easygoing type. If I have to land down a little and be more practical, I would answer that a next goal for the next few years would be to check the limits of large format by making my own sensitive media, really big for my standards, and curved–the possibilities of anamorphic pinhole photography are far beyond poetic as they could bring additional symbiotic meaning through seamless deformation of caught space. Then again, it’s not the spoon that bends.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
I don’t get too many advices as producing pinhole images and boxes for them is quite a personal thing to me, and I rarely would want to share it, sharing here could be destructive in the way that retelling your dreams from last night is really spoiling them, nevertheless in a reversed order. However, showing some of the result images to the world, years after they were developed, is another story, a completely different thing, and it is not to be denied lightly. So, probably the best advice I’ve got was to make an Instagram account, as ordinary as it may sound.