Images remember what we tend to forget
120 YEARS OF BTA
This is a representative exhibition for the biggest photographic archive in our country – the archive of the Bulgarian News Agency. It preserves the visual history of all events of greater significance since the 1950s. And yet, the main criteria for this selection was not the importance of the event itself but rather the professional mastery of the photographer, the peculiar aesthetics of propaganda photojournalism. The exhibition traces the movement away from diligent registration and towards enhancing the theatre of history, presenting it as a sort of performance. It shows how the history of community was transformed into individual stories, focusing on individual experience, on a gesture or expression… The focus is on photography as artistic achievement, regardless of the object that it seeks to present.
And yet the exhibition, almost unintentionally, did get a clear thematic focus: communism and its fall. This is quite understandable as after the Liberation from the Ottoman Empire, the liberation from the Soviet one is the only indisputably happy event in the life of the nation. It changed not only (and not so much) the state and our everyday lives as it changed the horizon of thinking. Including thinking in images.
The exhibition in honour of the 120th anniversary of the Bulgarian News Agency demonstrates that while photography makes history, history makes photography.
Georgi Lozanov, curator of the exhibition
“The sickness of Her Royal Hightness Knyaginya Clementina is getting worse and her condition is causing great concern” . These are the first lines of the first bulletin of the Bulgarian News Agency. It was handwritten by Oskar Iskender 120 years ago. His only aid took care of distribution among the agency subscribers, delivering the handwritten bulletins to people who were hungry for news from Europe, the Balkans, and Bulgaria.
Several years later the Bulgarian News Agency introduced the printing press and news started appearing on special forms and in greater circulation several times a day. The principal subscribers were newspapers and state institutions. In a very short time, the Bulgarian News Agency became so indispensable that without it, life in the country would have come to a halt. The Agency was split into several divisions working in different directions – keeping track of the international press to select news that would be relevant in Bulgaria; publishing bulletins with news from the country to translate and forward to international partners; and a Radio Service listening to the news as they unfolded in real time.
The first photographer was hired by the Bulgarian News Agency in 1940, and 12 years later the first independent PressPhoto agency was created. And it was in 1972 when Stefan Tihov got the Worldpressphoto Award for a picture he had taken for BTA.