Johana Trayanova | Like Father, Like Daughter

A romantic story about a great dreamer.

I will share with you several words that became a leitmotif after this encounter – inspiration, light and kindness. This was what Johana shared with me for about an hour and a half. Lucky me!  She is, surely, an endangered species – part of the pack of people who are always seeking to conquer the world in their own way without pretending to be or imitating someone else and have a lot of faith in the beauty of the world around.

Johana is 26 years old but she has experience in various roles – as an intern in a production company, junior producer, playwright, scriptwriter, production coordinator, photographer, designer etc. Her whole life is surrounded by art – before and after birth.

Before and after birth

Without any fear and with a lot of enthusiasm, Johana started telling me the story of her family. She first mentioned her great-grandfather – the poet Teodor Trayanov, declared by literary critic society as the father of symbolism in Bulgarian poetry together with Yavorov. He was a colorful, soul-rich and sensitive person. He had a daughter named Johana and a son, named Assen. Assen is our Johana’s grandfather. He was an intelligent and literate man who lived and worked in Austria but was forced to come back to Bulgaria and was imprisoned in the concentration camp in Belene. Her father followed his father’s footsteps and went to Germany to study and live there but also was forced to come back to Bulgaria. Even though this seemed like a step back at first, this was maybe the best thing that ever happened to him because he met Johana’s mother. She was a talented young music student – a violinist. She did not have the self-confidence to become a performer and she decided to teach. She became a music teacher but Johana’s father secretly listed her for a job competition in the Bulgarian National Radio. She won it and has worked there ever since. In my own opinion Johana took a little from both of her parents – talent and impulse to pursue art from both of them, modesty from her mom and courage from her dad. Unfortunately, life took her dad away from her when she was seven years old but she keeps clear and concrete memories from her favorite moments with him. It also turns out that many of these memories are in fact related to her decision to be “a child of cinema”. She remembers how they spent hours in the video library/store choosing which movie to watch next. And the movie that they watched over and over again was “My Best Friend’s Wedding”.

Growing up, looking for herself, finding the life Johana doesn’t like to label people, to identify someone by their lifestyle, profession or hobbies. She doesn’t give a definition of herself or her activities. Maybe that’s why when I asked her what her job was at the moment, she told me that there was none. She wants simple and plain things – she wants to shoot, to learn how to manage valuable projects, to learn how to do photobooks, how to capture the magic behind the scenes in cinema, to explore and observe people on the streets and keep them sealed in her mind and camera. That’s why she finds inspiration all around her, and her strongest motivation is love, “because love makes us better”. And she is giving all of her free time to feel the love – she is travelling with her boyfriend or just spending time with him.

Countryside | Personal archive

One of the places which brings her calm and peace is the countryside. Sometimes she feels frustrated from all of the information overload and frantic consumer behavior of the city and its residents. She sees the village as an escape because of its beauty, silence, solitude, serenity and privacy (maybe use serenity?). She dreams to live in a village someday, in the future.

Countryside | Personal archive

She told me that she has always known, ever since she was a little girl that cinema was her personal and professional sphere. That’s because for her, cinema is magic and same as almost everyone, she is attracted to magic. For example, she adores taking part in the birth of a film. To watch and explore the fairytale-like process – everyone is concentrated on their task and all together have a common goal – to create a new reality. She cannot imagine exchanging this for a daily routine in an office. Every single day that she spends on the set is like a special award for her. This is one of the reasons she loves taking pictures behind the scenes.

Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes.| Working title “The Pig”, dir. Drago Sholev

To capture what is happening on set, what every single person is doing and how he is doing it in this small ordered chaos.

Behind the scenes.| Working title “The Pig”, dir. Drago Sholev

These pictures weren’t even part of her obligations on the set of the film with working title “The Pig”. Johana was part of the art department but in her free moments she caught some fascinating working moments.

She loves surprising people with her camera not only on set but also on the street. She is strangely attracted to street photography.

Street photography

Street photography | Paris

She loves cities like Paris for this kind of photography because no one there cares that you are taking pictures of him/her. While in Sofia it is not the same – you can always find someone who will be embarrassed, angry or even curse you…

Street photography | Paris

Conceptual photography

The main themes she likes to explore in the field of conceptual photography are dreams, desires, fantasy, imagination. Every night she dreams and remembers her dreams even though she doesn’t write them down. Every night she travels in an alternate reality, product of her imagination, presenting the influence of the past day, or the excitement of the upcoming one. She is a sensitive person, ready to turn over her own ideas for what is real and what is not. I define her work as a constant searching for the unknown and unexperienced, for the beautiful and the ugly beyond the established notions of these concepts. Her first conceptual photography project is


These photographs are dedicated to the memories.

 “Going through the hard times of your life, consciously or unconsciously we look back to our memories – we call them from the deepest places of our mind to help us take some kind of important and different decision. We rarely realize how dependent we are on them. But what are they?

Memories are static, emotional, far, frozen in time, looking like a dream.

When we try to remember an exact memory we get lost in series of moments built on dreams, emotions, desires.

That’s the topic that Moments explores – the state of human consciousness in which reality is crossed with the past and the desired. “

At the moment one of her most important and really personal project is

The exhibition “I am dreaming”

The concept for this project won funding from the programme “Debuts” of the National Culture Fund. Behind this project stands a team that Johana gathered herself – a producer, coordinator, curator, art director and Johana herself as a photographer. The exhibition will be an installation of different artistic techniques to represent the theme of dreaming.

„The dream does not look like a story told by the conscious mind, everything is possible in it, everything is real. This is why children do not distinguish the dream from reality, because dreams are not made up, they happen.

Dreams are an integral part of our being. But what are they? A way to look to the future? Hidden deep within our subconscious complexes? An answer to life dilemma? Suppressed desires? Dreams? Escape from reality? The intersection of the consciousness and the depths of the unconscious…?

In this sense, the project “I am dreaming” aims to provoke the search for the meaning of dreams for each individual.”

When I was preparing for the encounter with Johana I wasn’t sure why she is always paying such great attention to the imaginary world from the past or to dreams but I found an extremely beautiful and romantic answer to this question when she told me about a future professional dream of hers.

Working title “Coffee with Dad”

Johana has a project for a photobook with found photos. This approach is called „Photo Vernaculaire”. Its representatives are Jean Marie Donnat, Eric Kessel, who even claims he will not make any photography until he uses all the photos he has taken so far. Bulgarian representative of this approach is Tihomir Stoyanov with “Imaginary Archives”.

Loneliness | From the photobook project “Coffee with Dad”

In my own opinion, there is nothing accidental in Johana’s life. One day while looking at the old basement, she found street photographs that her father took while being in Poland. Until then she had no idea that her dad was into photography. I would say, like father, like daughter. That’s when she decided to create her own, very personal, gentle and beautiful project for a photobook. I can definitely say that this is one of the most special and exciting things I have recently heard of. Using all your love and care you are gathering and creating the stories between you and your dad that have never happened, using the photographs he made while he was alive. She aims to recreate in her own way the conversations she would have had with her father if he was here next to her. For life, love, attitude, relationships, and everything else.


Traditions | From the photobook project “Coffee with Dad”

Hallo and Goodbye Lexicon

The topics in your conceptual art are related with psychology and philosophy. Are you into some particular philosophy? I am attracted to the eastern philosophy – the wisdom, the ability to listen to others and yourself, the silence.

Are you under some kind of influence in your work? I wouldn’t say so. I get inspired while watching movies, going to exhibitions, exploring people etc. but I don’t follow fashion or any trends.

Who is the most emblematic person in art history in your opinion? Van Gogh. I was in Amsterdam and I saw some of his work. I swear that I was hearing noises while I was watching the paintings – I heard seagulls, the sea, the wind…they were talking to me. Michelangelo as well – he always wanted to be a sculptor the most, but he kept receiving different tasks that kept him away from what he had dreamed of the longest. However, he sought absolute perfection and made all of his works perfect. I am saying this because today I am a photographer, tomorrow I will be an assistant in an art department of a movie production, after that I will be a production coordinator and nothing should be done in mediocrity – that’s why I always try to do everything in the best possible way.

Is there a universal question you seek to answer through your work? What will happen in this life? But after a while I said to myself that I don’t need to know all the answers because it will be too boring to live.

Is there anything that repels you with art? Making art only for yourself. This can feed your ego but in my opinion, it can’t make a work of art.

What do you always carry with you on trips? Camera, swimsuit and a hat.

Top 3 places you would like to visit in the whole wide world? South Africa, Iceland, New Zealand.

When you were a little girl what did you want to be when you grow up? An actress (she blushes).

And now, who would you like to look like when you grow up? Mom and dad.

If your life was a movie, which one would it be? Grease.

And what if you could be a book character, which one would you choose? (Here we said unanimously and almost in one voice): Pippi Longstocking, of course!

And if now I ask your mother to describe you in three words, what would they be? Dreamer, treasure and crazy. (Later that day Johana told me that she actually asked her mom and the three words were: euphoria, light and love. Well, I agree!)

If you could steal credit for any great piece of art, song, film, book, etc which one would you claim? MINE. I wouldn’t do this even if I could because to steal credit for something that’s not yours is unfair.

Are you afraid of reality that you are locking yourself in the world of imagination? I just pay attention to the small things beyond reality because I think that people don’t pay enough attention to the magic that surrounds them and is invisible at first glance.

Do you have a special ritual for a successful day? First thing first, I have to wake up. And to put two different socks on.

Wish for something out loud …. A briefcase for developing photographs and the exhibition “Dreaming” becoming a reality.

Damian Dimitrov – Camera & Intuition

I want to introduce you to one of the young and talented Directors of Photography (DoP)  – Damian Dimitrov who is 27 years old and loves the night, the sunrise and sunset, the world around him and mostly – his work.

Photo by Christian Nochev


Name: Damian Dimitrov

Years: 27

Home town: Beloslav, near Varna

Occupation: Director of Photography

In your spare time: Spare time is boring and painful. I am constantly thinking about work. I want to work.

Favorite time of the day: Evening and night

Your motivation: Work and progress

Your inspiration: The world around me

When you look through the lens, what do you expect and hope to seeA better reality.

Is there a film which you watched without thinking how it was done, who is the DoP, who is the director:  In fact, most good movies. Somehow I managed to break myself [sic] and not think so much about it. When I look at a good story I just dive into it. Otherwise, you cannot enjoy it. But if I have to mention titles, they would be: “Last tango in Paris”, “The Dreamers”, “Amores Perros”, “Raging Bull”, “The lives of others”, “We need to talk about Kevin” and etc.

Which is the most memorable movie shot that you have seen:  The shot where Rafiki rises the little Simba in his hands in front of all the animals of the kingdom.

If you can make a wish about something connected to your work, what would it be and why:  Development. That’s the best thing about our profession. When I started studying, I wanted to use and work with the newest and the best camera equipment. I wanted to be on the set in every possible moment. I remember I couldn’t fall asleep all night before my first shoot with a professional camera. At first, I tried to take beautiful and flawless shots, but then I realized that this is not how that works. These are moments that take hours and sometimes even days. However, that is the most charming thing about our profession – you are always aiming for better.

I met Damian at 11 AM to have a cup of coffee and chat. Waking up was painful for him, because his day starts and ends a little later – the early morning hours are usually spent in researches for a new project and inspiring talks with friends. Evenings are his favorite. That is the most productive time for him, because the day has already passed. He has seen, heard and felt all for the days. What should have happened – happened, so now, at 8 PM  – everything starts to flourish around him.

When the camera was not there yet

His mom is an accountant and his dad – a driver. As he says: “no one at home does anything that is close to art”. When he started high school, Damian moved to Varna. He enrolled in painting classes and wanted to study interior design. “I have no idea why I wanted it and what was I thinking at that moment.” In his crazy-early teenage years, he had an unexpected encounter which destined his way without him realizing it.

The encounter

One evening a friend of his called. It turned out that his car broke down and he didn’t have a place to stay for the night. Damian invited him over, they got a couple of beers and sat to talk. Suddenly, his friend told him the place he was working at needed new employees for the summer and suggested that he should arrange a meeting with the manager of the company. On the next day, Damian went to meet him. They quickly liked each other. Several days later, Damian found himself in a bus full of people and a single camera (that he hadn’t seen before). It was a company that filmed tourist trips – a big sensation around the seaside. They told him: “Just act normal and professional. Pretend that you know and can do everything.” They made up a story about his starlet biography of a young, talented and wanted director of photography, which they were telling the tourists. At that point, Damian had no idea what was going on….

That was the first time Damian saw a professional camera and he liked it a lot. But the interesting thing here is that the camera seemed to like him back. Do we have love from first sight here?

The photography

The summer was over and so was his summer job. Soon after he came back, Damian decided to get a camera and start shooting. He shot in abstract, detailed shots, most often black and white. He seemed to enjoy that quite a lot and shortly after, he bought a film photo camera and turned his lodge into a laboratory. Damian turns his days around in order to improve his photos. I suspect that was the moment when the evenings became his favorite part of the day. He started waking up early, or stays awake, just to enjoy and shoot the sunrises and sunsets.

After he finished his studies, Damian decided to come to Sofia and apply to NATFA. He was struggling with making a choice – go for Photography or Film & TV Cinematography. He decided to apply for Cinematography, but did not get accepted from the first try. However, that did not stop him chasing his dreams. Damian spent a year in theoretical training and practical experience and he got accepted on his second year. During that time, he made several photograph exhibitions with friends in Bulgaria and the USA.

The cinematography

Photo by Maria Tsvetkova

After he got accepted in NATFA Damian started to get into details, related to the profession and the working process. He met new friends that share the same passion as he does and his adventure was ready to begin.

The world around Damian inspires him, he says. He gets motivated by work, development and progress. When he has free time he doesn’t know what to do. He wants to work, to think about work, to talk about work, to watch movies, videos and all sorts of pictures.

Photo Maria Tzvetkova


Cinematographers and movies

Photo by Christian Nochev

At first, Damian wanted to follow the good professional examples, but never succeeded. His experience has shown him that it is always different. If you always use your own imagination and intuition, it will be better than copying somebody else’s work.  There are many DoPs that he likes. Some of them are Ryszard Lenczewski,Bruno Delbonnel , Sean Bobbitt, Hoyte Van HoytemaRoger Deakins, CBE, ASC, BSC, Vittorio Storaro, A.S.C., A.I.C., Sven Nykvist, Emmanuel Lubezki, A.S.C., A.M.C. and others.

When he talks about them and their work, Damian payed specific attention to Lubezki. He admires his work. I could even say that a little flame blazes in his eyes – he is amazed how, in so many different stories, Lubezki can implement his own and unique approach, and how difficult it is. When asked to recommend three films that could be used as an example of cinematography masters, he gave the following:

  1. “The tree of life”
  2. “Apocalypse now”
  3. “In the mood for love”

He describes “The tree of life” as one of the most beautiful things he has ever seen in his life. He does not have a favorite movie, DoP or director. In his opinion, anyone who has seen enough cinema cannot have a favorite one.

Sky Battalion(trailer) dir. Dimitris Georgiev

Disappointments and challenges

As it happens to the majority of men – Damian gets disappointed, but not in the typical way. He does not blame someone or something – the lack of money, the system or the government. His disappointment is somehow romantic, poetic and related to the work. There is a particular line that brings him this feeling: “Very nice image, but the movie sucks.” At the beginning, while he was still studying, it felt flattering, but soon that sentence started to disappoint, upset and hurt him. Damian realizes that these words do not make sense, because a film is combination of all – it is neither a single picture, nor just a story. He believes the relationship between the director, the operator and the art director is extremely important. As you are working on a project together, at one point the communication becomes natural and casual. You soon realize that you have a new friend – the person with whom you stand shoulder to shoulder behind the camera. Therefore, in times of difficulty, it is best to unite with your team. He believes that the true magic comes when the entire team unites and starts working as one.

Insomnia, dir. Radoslav Kamburov
White elephants, dir. Todor Dimitrov

We talked about the challenges as well. Damian says that before the start of every project he has a “pre – fever” – that fluttering feeling between embarrassment, anxiety and pleasure. A great challenge for him is to fight off the fear at the beginning of each project and to turn it into adrenaline when the filming starts. Another serious challenge is not to imagine anything when you get the script.  He thinks he should not use one of his strongest weapons – the imagination. Lately, he has been trying to do it more and more often. When he receives a script, he reads it as a text, as a playwright, and he abstains from his ideas and where his mind and vision lead him, because it often takes him to places different to the ones that the director has in mind and that does not lead to anything good.


His work in a word

Trailer of Delhi Dance, dir. Dimitris Georgiev

 To be honest with you, when I asked this question, I got a straight-forward answer: “I won’t answer you that. I can’t. It’s impossible. How can I describe it in a word?” Without any special claim, however throughout our conversation, he clearly defines what the DoP’s work is for him.  It is a combination of talent and intuition. That’s it. It’s just that simple.

I am telling you, this boy is a combination of good values, sanity, camera, imagination and a smile.

I would call this talent and intuition. What about you?