Nikola Borissov: Master Of The Wanderlust

Nikola Borissov, who hails originally from Bulgaria, is only 32 years old, "that period in life when you start realizing who you really are and what you want," he explains. The photographer prefers to think of himself as a "child of the world," however, and with representation from New York to Paris to Milan to Eastern Europe and the Orient, he has already lived and shot in various locations throughout the globe. After having spent 10 years in Milan, he’s currently based in London in preparation to move to New York next year. He agrees that imagery and aesthetics used to be largely affected by geography, but as digital connects us, those kinds of differences are finding themselves mitigated.

"If anything," he laughs, "I would define my eye as ‘vaguely European,’ but it’s a mix really. People travel all the time, so those major area-based differences are slowly disappearing. Of course, there are still some stylistic differences, but they’re much less specific to their original regions now. The baby faces in Asia, the androgynous models in Paris, the commercial girl-next-door look in the U.S., the voluptuous women in Italy—those specifics are still there, but you can also encounter them anywhere else. I’m profoundly convinced that in the 21st century, the stupidest thing one could do is to limit their view of the world within the boundaries of a certain ethnic or geographical entity. No borders; we’re all the same."

Borissov’s biggest challenge to staying mobile is keeping in touch with past clients while coordinating with new ones. Shockingly, in an era of tweets over substance, he chooses to largely ignore social media; instead, he says this is when a good agent becomes a lifesaver. "Truth is, I never know until the very last minute where I’ll go," he explains. "It’s frustrating sometimes, but that’s nothing compared to the life that models lead. They’re literally all over the place. They’ve been everywhere, and it’s much easier for them. The agencies take care of everything. I envy them so much for that.

"I have very mixed feelings about social media," he continues. "I’ve been living and breathing online for the past 15 years, always connected, always online. I’m becoming more and more analog. I’ve chosen a different approach and mind-set. With digital and the Internet, there has been this massive wave of mediocrity in photography and video, of which I was a part, as well, of course. Everybody is suddenly a photographer and screaming for attention from all possible platforms—social media, websites, everywhere. As a result, it’s harder for art buyers to find quality work so a lot of them prefer offline ways of sourcing content providers, even given the tremendous amount of talented newcomers lost in this overwhelming wave. I choose not to be a part of this; now I only have my website, a deviantART profile [borissov.deviantart.com] and a Facebook page [www.facebook.com/nikolaborissovphotography]. I keep it just because I’d like to keep my personal profile exactly that, personal and not related to what I do.

"I’ve deleted everything else, and these three are probably getting the boot soon, too. Things that are easily obtainable aren’t interesting. Very few at the top end of the market take the Internet sensations seriously. The top 20 commercial and fashion photographers in the world are pretty much staying the same, and the very few newcomers to that club don’t have an extensive online presence—in the majority of cases, just a website, and sometimes not even that. I’m aiming for that part of the spectrum, and from a certain point of view, it’s simpler—you just have to be really damned good at what you do, stay focused and have great representatives and contacts."

Borissov only discovered photography as a hobby with a digital compact in 2003, but he soon found that it was a constant sidekick during his adventures. Unconsciously, he found himself taking pictures of everything that he was seeing. After graduating and spending two short weeks working in a bank, in 2006 he quickly decided that he preferred life as a photographer. "It wasn’t me; I wasn’t happy," he explains. "I’ve never been much of a planner. I tried, but my plans always ended up in a total and flamboyant mess, so I woke up one morning and just decided to go with the flow and simply do everything I can to become a better photographer.

"Currently, I use a Hasselblad H4D-40 with 28mm, 80mm, 210mm and 35-90mm lenses," he says. "This covers my needs perfectly. At the beginning, I was missing the speed and lightness of 35mm digital, but I adjusted my style of shooting. Slowing down made me think more. It’s a completely different approach, more mature. Besides the difference in image quality, being a location photographer, I need the ability to sync the flashes at higher speeds without losing power, and 35mm can’t offer me that. I’m currently in the market for a medium-format film system. I decided to opt for a Hasselblad 203 FCW, plus a 110F and a couple of CF lenses—that would give me extreme flexibility with the choice between focal and leaf shutter, and no electronics whatsoever.

"For my street photography, I use a Nikon FM2n, plus a 20/3.5 pre-AIS, 50/1.4 and 135/2.8. Love that outfit—it’s extremely compact, rugged and versatile. I don’t really have a favorite lens; I just use the one I need in that situation. As for lighting, I sold my flashes; it’s almost impossible to lug them around when you travel. Now I just rent. As a whole, I’ve never been very interested in the technical part of photography, and I’m consciously trying to stay even further away from it now and focus on what’s important."

His more personal work also includes reportage and street photography. "I love people’s faces and stories," he explains. "That’s what got me into photography in the first place. I’d never do street photography commercially—it’s a piece of me, very personal and not for sale. On the other hand, fashion is all about creating worlds and visualizing stories, fantasies and emotions, and I love that, as well. At the beginning, I was convinced that everything in photography should mirror reality, so I didn’t have a high opinion of fashion photography. I was seeing it as something fake and superficial, and that was a problem. But when I realized that as a form of art it shouldn’t be connected to reality at all, I changed my perspective and started appreciating and loving it. It freed my imagination, and now I’m determined to explore it and discover what’s there in my head. I firmly believe that one shouldn’t follow styles and trends, but be themselves instead and pour their inner world into what they do. This is what makes us all unique and different. And this is why some are successful and others struggle to keep up with copying the next trend du jour."

Borissov points out ironically that you can tell a lot about a photographer’s character by looking at his or her work while conflictingly describing his own personality as chaotic and emotional. His work, of course, is the complete opposite. Borissov’s subjects are elegant, evocative and seductive, posed gracefully against expansive wide-angle backdrops or intimate, intricate interiors. "I’m chaotic, contra
sty and emotional," he says, "always on the extremes and never in the middle. So I guess that filters through in my photographs. I love and admire strong women, and have always thought that a majestic, minimalistic landscape is the most appropriate backdrop for them, away from any signs of human activity. That’s why I love deserts so much—they’re the perfect location. Even when I photograph in crowded places, I always try to isolate the subject as much as possible. I guess it’s me being an introvert misanthrope that shows through."

Working on the international market certainly has its challenges, but Borissov is characteristically upbeat about the objectives he faces. "Things are changing, all the paradigms in the industry are shifting, but I believe there’s more work now than ever before; it’s just that there are many more photographers and videographers, especially at the low end of the spectrum. But you get what you pay for, as with everything else, and the top end of the spectrum seems to be thriving better than ever. The luxury market is exploding, so I don’t really see all this recession everybody is talking about. It’s a change, and we have to adapt, business-wise and paradigm-wise, with the convergence of stills and video. The problem with that is that every photographer got a 5D Mark II and started believing that, ‘Voilà, I’m a director now.’ It’s not that simple; most of the so-called ‘fashion videos’ I see online are complete rubbish, with no storyline or anything cinematographic about them, besides a pretty girl caressing her face in slow motion. Having a video-capable camera doesn’t make you a cinematographer; the ability to tell and visualize stories does. The tools don’t matter.

"Fascinating and exciting times," Borissov continues. "One can easily switch between different visual languages and tools—film, digital, video, whatever. And the established photographers are doing exactly that—being flexible. It’s merciless survival of the fittest out there, evolution—adapt and evolve, or die. So you’d better be flexible and unique. The one big, enormous problem is that photography has been tremendously devaluated as a form of expression and visual language—now people tweet vintage-looking pictures of their lunch and kittens and so on. But it is how it is, and we have to adapt."

You can see more of Nikola Borissov’s work at www.nikolaborissov.com.

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