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Vladimir Vasilev

Life in…concrete

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A concrete city of Bulgaria’s post-communist world –  this is my homeland.

It is real, without any decor. The unfinished transition to a European way of life is a bitter reality that cannot be hidden – it is visible in the mind.

On periodic returns to my native town in the late 2000s, I constantly rediscovered people, and the still slow and painful break with the past and…concrete. Their fate and destiny turned to concrete, a cheaper existence far away from life’s previous harmony. Concrete has transformed them into itself, into its own fellow grays. The reinforced concrete structures have done a good job – they are barriers between the vital biological environment and people, it has broken their contact with nature. Man, like any living creature separated from its natural environment, has changed both physically and spiritually. In these deformed human beings. I tried my best to find the truth.

These images are dedicated to: Anyone living and working in the concrete city of the modern world; the cheerful and carefree children playing in a lifeless environment of stone and debris. They are young and energetic enough to get over everything, to stand the changes and recover. They still do not feel the slow withering embrace of reinforced concrete. But it is a hard mission to restore natural harmony for the future.

This theater is displayed without makeup or decorations.


Vladimir Vasilev, 33,  was born in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria. He graduated the college of teaching foreign languages in his hometown. He received basic photography training at age 19. In 1996, he enrolled at the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy in Sofia. Three years later, he stopped his studies in order to devote himself to photography entirely.
He then worked as an assistant photographer and lighting designer in the advertising studio “Karkelanov”, Sofia. In 2001, he left for France where he spent 8 years waiting to be a legal resident, all the while following the path of photography.
He has been working as an independent photographer since 2008.

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Vladimir Vasilev

37 thoughts on “vladimir vasilev – life in concrete”

  1. Awesome : (LA way to express a positive reaction)
    Classic perfection which sometimes can back fire..
    Too “perfect” and polished … But still, I’m feeling it..
    All gravy:)

  2. Jamie Maxtone-Graham

    Vladimir – I love the way you’ve explored this theme; life, concrete. You’ve really captured something deep and unique. I can feel the vulnerability of the flesh of the humans who must rub against this material, this system. I feel your connection to the place and to the people and I like it. I feel your love. The old people look like children and some of the children look ancient.

    What I think also stands out is that you do not seem to be trying to prosthelytize or fix blame for what look like insurmountable social ills. The way you’ve made your comment seems much the same as the way the people live – day by day. Frame by frame. Maybe I read too much into this but this is the benefit of being the viewer; I can see what I think and feel. A nice piece of work here. A number of really outstanding individual images and an overall cohesive essay.

    A technical note – some of the captions seem assigned twice to different images. A glitch in the system, no doubt.

  3. Very nice…
    I find two recursive elements: people and enormous buildings.
    People seems to be imprisoned on it.
    well done
    I don’t like so much the choice to use BW, because of my love for colors :D


  4. I am left with a minor sense of sadness. Cold, hard, bleak. Some words that came to mind. Yet also… brilliant, moving, sensitive.

    Love the B&W quality. Well done.

  5. many of them look oversharpened.
    appear to originate on MF, but B/W looks very digital…odd greyscale.
    many also appear quite highly choreographed/set up…not a criticism, just an observation.
    All these things bug me somewhat, even if I am imagining all of them.
    32 is quite nice though, for what it is.
    not really feeling much of the rest.


  6. yes John indeed I am a choreographer and these are scenes of theater. Without any makeup or put in scente.I got a way to photograph too perfect ,digital and polished like the concrete life in Bulgaria -beautuful and perfect:).

  7. Congratulations Vladimir! This is exceptional!

    Jamie, great take on this. Yes, there is no judgement here. It is apparent that Vladimir is in his own element. There is a fascinating mix of pathos, humour, whimsy, resignation, surealism, and madness. There are the children and those who would like to be children again. The world is black, white, and grey. There are no sunny days. It is always grey and winter. What can be done but throw back one’s head and laugh at our fate?

    John, I cannot see any evidence of oversharpening. They certainly are sharp. Odd greyscale? No seeing that either. I see a very complete tonal range. Medium format? Perhaps, although judging from the depth of field, frame shape, and variety of shooting heights both higher and lower than eye level, my guess would be digital, perhaps one of the micro 4/3 compacts like the GF1.

    Anyway, wonderful work Vladimir.


  8. Nice essay, the song is slightly different, a little stiff but that is what you usually get with a 67II…although the 645 is an easier game. Can’t help wondering if the theme came after the images were begun…
    Most cities have a couple of hi-rise buildings like these, burnt cars, rubbish, people sitting around waiting for something to occur…of course it never does. The ones I’ve visited whilst delivering parcels weren’t so happy, not even the kids. I can just imagine once again entering one of the buildings, paper thin inner walls, the typical neighbour who switches the radio first thing he or she wakes and of course for the benefit of all. It must be quite an experience to go back there, half your skin says yes out of curiosity of course, the other just prefers the memories knowing very well if anything changes it’s always for the bad…actually the sun does shine usually when one of your mates who stayed behind has again thought another idea how to get out of the concrete cage, obviously making loads of money just like the last plan. The only ones who make a fortune have gone, the damn constructor makes a bomb, cheap inner materials, one inner wall seperating two flats but naturally charges as two walls. Well they maybe goverment funded doesn’t matter if they are new they will be soon forgotten concrete and tennants and if they are old and falling apart it’s always those who live within those walls who just don’t know how to keep those drafty windows in good speck or just two many family photos hung on the wafer thin walls and so it’s time to knock this concrete crap down says the local goverment because the land is going up in price and we need to make another little business but we’re going to promise you something ”nicer”.
    I’d forgotten how clinical medium format can appear, i’ve always been a 6×7 junkie but it’s amazing how BURN is successfully brainwashing me…i miss a bit of grit, never thought I’d say that.
    Amazing in this day and age we can see in ”Civilized Europe” someone crawling it shouldn’t be allowed it’s unfair.
    Vladimir good essay made me think a lot, cool stuff and you strum with a big fat plectrum which dominates your sound. I’ve been looking at your website and I love that essay on ghettos…that is lyrical riding on cusp of the wave. I wouldn’t of got far shooting that essay, would of ended up in some argument with some parent after giving a clap round the ears to that kid swinging that poor puppy by his lead…

  9. yes – so much to like about this piece.. the personal connection.. background context.. geniune intent and wonderful dedication hidden in the text.

    the kind of story it would be crass to be critical of photographically – and thankfully there seems little reason to be..
    fault could be found, it always can, yet as far as the photographs go – in terms of the kind of photography being practiced, it’s very well blended.. genuine.. REAL time spent which produces GENUINE circumstance.. nothing plastic.. little contrived..

    it’s not the bulgaria i know from working in sofia – and that’s something to love..
    i’m not vlad.. and the world i inhabit is not his..
    anything less would be disappointing.

    back-yard photography at it’s best.. and it’s most upsetting.

    with thanks

  10. Vladimir:

    I think we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of you in the future. And I am looking forward to doing so. Congratulations.

  11. Very interesting series,Vladimir.
    Nostalgic and disheartening at the same time almost as if your ‘theater’
    is a little insane.
    I think your series might be a little stronger if you edited down to 15-20,though.

  12. Wow. Just about the best, most fully realized essay I’ve yet seen on BURN. Perfect in it’s delivery in just about every way – the images themselves, the essay, the sequencing, captions. A fascinating, disturbing, and albeit fully humanistic view into this “concretized” life of existence in a remote corner of the world (for me at least). Bravo. I am humbled.

  13. I would agree with this statement by Charles Peterson:

    “Wow. Just about the best, most fully realized essay I’ve yet seen on BURN.”

    except for one reason. I don’t know how many times I have had that exact same thought about a Burn essay – but it has been many.

  14. If you grow up between concrete you don’t notice it as much as when you escape from it and then go back.. at least that’s what happened to me.. as a kid it was home, without questions…

    Love picture nr. 2, and many other great photographs.. this essay makes me want to go to this place and see for myself, see how much of Vladimir’s vision is in the open and how much hidden. Thanks!

    Also, I think prints would erase the photoshoppeds look some of them have, but that’s a minor detail..

  15. Paul

    I had meant to go to his website earlier, but have been busy with work and home renovations.

    Just took a look at the Ghetto essay. Yes. It really is fantastic.

    I will spend more time looking at the rest of his work when I get time. Thanks for reminding me.

  16. Ink runs from the corners of my mouth
    There is no happiness like mine.
    I have been eating poetry.
    ~Mark Strand, “Eating Poetry

    And the ink of your pictures, and the dust of those buildings, and the flight of the sound of the broken joy, and the scraping of the knees along the street, and the waving of the scent of the meat, and the wilding of the aging teeth and inking smiles and the scattered-patterns of built birds and burned backs…..and this is poetry, your photographs.

    An uncontestably beautiful and cinematic tribute to both the beauty and the sadness of this city, to both the indomitable strength and the eroded fragility of their lives and yet there is such a powerful celebration, a hypnotic, nearly wonderous, playfulness that is shorn of any irony or pathos, for the weight and the sadness comes with the joy that is expressed in these fully living faces.

    I too loved the juxtaposition between the often distilled sadness and ‘age’ of the children with the almost cartoonish joy of the elderly…not as characature but as celebration….that beyond the squalid concrete and hobbled bones and wood and remnants of age, is a life teeming with not only celebration but with the getting-on-with-the-living…..a remarkable and honest and ultimately charged understanding….

    this is Cinema….in fact, this is cinema and poetry….i hunger to see this as both a book and a film….there isn’t a single photograph in the set that fails to inspire and yet its cumulative power is simply joyous….

    Here is a body of work and a photographer gifted not simply with awareness and vision, but more importantly, gifted with a heart not wearied by irony or derision, but with planting firmly both the profound and the profane, the heart-broken with the heart-mending…

    in a word: life..

    my favorite burn essay in a long while…


    as well as with the other magnificent work you’ve done!


  17. p.s. i love your use of remixing pictures too…from Double Life to 100 years to Ghetto Shadow, etc….and really, your a kindred spirit with the magnificent filmmaker Tarr Bela :))))….big joy!

  18. I’m with Charles Peterson on this one. Just about as perfect a photo essay as I could imagine. Deeply human yet set within an alienating environment of concrete (well titled!). An artist’s eye that searches out the strange within the ordinary but never with derision, always with compassion and a sense of humor shared with your subjects. Black & white images that capture thhe mood of the place and the people – can’t imagine it in color. A wonderful mix of close-up portraits, street shots, and interactive moments with your subjects. Like Pete Marovich, I would buy this book in a minute! Please let us know when it becomes available.

    Yes, Vladmiri, you are definitely one to watch. And I will…

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  20. Some poignant moments here, but I feel the same as John G. and have difficulty feeling engaged in the images because of the this. Looking forward to seeing your future works.

  21. Yes.. I have the same sense of appreciation as many others here Vladimir.

    I see people wondering. Lost. Waiting. Losing themselves.. Don’t know if it has anything to do with concrete?
    Your photography Vladimir is cinematic, revealing more than what’s in the print. A grander narrative.

    As far as the grey scale problem, I have no problems with this as its a mere technical issue ( I guess) as I have suffered similar results scanning my own B/W film on a, what i also guess is an un-calibrated monitor screen and trying to get too much detail in the high lights. The images themselves show you to be a communicator.. ..A MEDIUM..

    going to check out your web site now..

  22. Владимир: Живописен изобразяване на пост комунистическа България. Мисля, че имам хубава комбинация от “изтеглена назад” образи, показващи хора в тяхната среда, както и в близост до портрети, показващи отделни личности. Не виждам нищо лошо тон или острота. Аз съм фотограф със седалище в Чикаго (не българска), но през някои български приятели да направя много снимки на балканските жители на Чикаго. Аз ще ги точка за есето си, мисля, че те ще го оценят. Като цяло добра работа. Ciao – Стив Gubin

  23. Very good essay, no need to add to what has been well said by Charles, and also John Gladdy. Sometimes, no need to “over-grit” during the processing, while my own personal caveat would be that I felt it was lacking in more populated frames (vs portraits of course),that is in terms of individuals, not crowds.

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