Among the plentiful phenomena in Bulgarian photography, whose origin is linked with the name of Georgi St. Georgiev, we discover nude photography. Not necessarily because he was the first to decide to shoot naked bodies, but because he promoted the genre as a legitimate sphere of creative expression. It was not an easy task in a very patriarchal and shy society like ours in the 20s and 30s of the last century. The naked body belonged entirely to the private life, the bedroom and the boudoir. And photography was seen as its literal transfer into the public space as „cultural defloration“ of a kind. Photographed nudity formed the impression that not the picture, but nudity has become „public domain“.
Thus nude photography, with its very arrival, crushed stereotypes and overthrew taboos, which is, in fact, the aim of the modernists, and Georgi St. Georgiev is probably the most typical representative of modernism in Bulgarian photography. And he allows himself to combine the inherent to the iconography of the naked body resistance against the traditional morality with the flair of photography, which in itself is a powerful vehicle for modernizing culture. His nude images, considered in a broader context, are involved in the transition that occurred in our country between the two world wars, from traditional to modern culture.
To challenge hereditary prejudices, modernism relies on the identity between ethical and aesthetic; violating the limits of what is ethically acceptable to the community is justified by the creative expanse of the individual in art, placed under aesthetic protection. In nude photography, this means that nakedness is freed from being natural and transformed into fiction so that bodies are transported into a parallel reality and cease to be just bodies. And Georgi St. Georgiev succeeds to a great extent by adopting symbolism, which is closest to him as an artistic style. Symbolization flows along two lines. The first one is inherent to symbolism in all arts and is expressed in the introduction of mythological, folklore and fabulous matrices. They put the characters in a kind of infantile gaming situation, turning them into adult children, for whom everything, including their own presence in the frame, is only seeming. The function of nudity in this case is to exclude them from the usual order of things, to sever their connection with everyday life and the social world.
The second line, especially in photography, is determined by working with light and the role of shadows. They, as one might expect, symbolize the hidden side of man, his second, dark self, who stalks, tempts and frightens. Nudity here is to imply that it is a projection of sexuality, which is one of the main reasons for a conflict between traditional and modern culture. Along this second line we can find parallels with the nude photography of the great Czech master František Drtikol who worked at that time. He, however, belongs to a far more brazen and open to the avant-garde cultural environment and his aesthetization of female nudity is also a strategy to exonerate the woman in her desires, to reject public sanction on them.
The nudes of Georgi St. Georgiev are clearly more domestic, more apologetic and more endearing. One can even imagine them painted on bed boards. The naked body seems to prefer to remain a naked and not a stripped form, if we refer to the distinction offered by Kenneth Clark, for whom the naked body is a natural phenomenon, a natural state, while the stripped body is a scandalous gesture, a striptease in which we erase the coercion of society from ourselves.
In his photographs, Georgi St. Georgiev wants to reconcile natural and scandalous nudity. It’s like shooting naked models under the watchful eye of your own wife, which, indeed, was the practice of the first nude photographers in our country.
Assoc. Prof. Georgi Lozanov