2019 Nikon-NOOR Academy Bulgaria

 Noor Academy Sofia July 2019

Between July 14 to July 18, 2019, the Nikon-NOOR Academy held the Masterclass at PhotoSynthesis in Sofia, Bulgaria. This masterclass launched the Nikon-NOOR Academy in 2019, which will later take place in Spain and Austria. Fifteen young visual storytellers gathered for an inspiring four days of learning and sharing with NOOR photographers Bénédicte Kurzen, Nina Berman and Kadir van Lohuizen. The masterclass was moderated by NOOR Digital Director Pierre Mohamed-Petit.

During these intensive days, the group reviewed and shared their portfolios, listened to presentations by the photographers, held in-depth discussions on practical and creative issues, and edited their visual stories. Below you will find a showcase of the participants’ work.

The masterclass has been made possible thanks to the generous support of Nikon Europe.


Aleksandar Nikolov



More than 140 000 people in Europe wait for the greatest hero in their life. This is the number of people who urgently need an organ transplant - a new heart, liver, kidney, lung or pancreas. The need for organs constantly increases - 6 new patients are added to the waiting list every hour, while 18 die every day. Being on the waiting list is a daily struggle, countless mornings between hope and despair, life and death.

“Man’s last gift” examines the process of organ donation in Bulgaria through the personal story of Georgi - a 21 year old man who saved four people with his death. “Man’s last gift” is a story about the families who give and people who receive. About the people who wait, the medics and the unknown heroes who complete the chain. It is a story about politics, science and humanity. A story about loss and hope.

Aleksandar Nikolov

Aleksandar Nikolov (1991) is documentary photographer based in Sofia, Bulgaria and focused in Balkan issues. He is a Photojournalism graduate from London College of Communication and has been awarded with Royal Photographic Society Environmental Bursary in 2015, Bulgarian Press Photo in 2012 and HIPA finalist in 2014/15. He has exhibited in Bulgaria, Spain, England and Georgia.


Andras Zoltai


Manhood in Armenia – relevance of sports in Armenian society

In 2018, I started to photograph sport trainings and competitions all around Armenia. I focused on the most traditional and popular post-soviet sports such as wrestling, weightlifting and gymnastics. My goal was to visualize the obsession of Armenian sportsmen. Sports offer the chance to break out from poverty for the impoverished living on the periphery of society. Sport victories can truly represent the power of a nation’s identity especially for such a poor and isolated country like Armenia. Unfortunately, infrastructure and training methods have not changed since the Soviet era; yet children and coaches remain highly optimistic and continue fighting for success. The winner takes it all – personal and material success, social respect, and most of all, glory for the nation of Armenia. However, there are other aspects of sports life in Armenia. During the masterclass with the help of my Mentor – Benedicte Kurzen – we tried to find different narratives of the story. This is how we came up with the broader idea of Manhood. This project follows the importance of sports in Armenian Youth culture, although also approaches themes like Manhood and the place of Man in Armenian society. Since the 2018 Armenian Velvet Revolution, youth in this country has taken a strong place in their society, creating great changes in the country’s structure. Armenian man must be strong, commited, respectful and persistent during the whole life path from child to man. Sport has become a major source of representing strong positions in such society.

Andras Zoltai

András Zoltai (1990) is a freelance documentary photographer based in Budapest, Hungary. He graduated with a BSc in Marketing at Budapest Business University. After he studied Photojournalism at the academy of the National Association of Hungarian Journalists (MÚOSZ). His main aspiration as a photographer is to tell hidden stories of humanity by the power of his camera. He focuses on socially sensitive narratives, and strongly believes that visual stories can change the world. He is also interested in contemporary and experimental issues. Last two years he won artist scholarship of the Hungarian Cultural Fund. In 2019, he has been awarded with 1st prize on 37th Hungarian Press Photo Award.


Georgi Kozhuharov


Socotra - The Invisible Island

In March 2019 we visited Socotra Island, Yemen. Socotra has always been one of the most isolated and most bizarrely beautiful places on Earth, due to its endemic flora and fauna. But since the war in Yemen erupted, reaching the island is even more challenging than before. Journalists are not allowed on the island, so in order to reach it, we had to sail illegally on a small cargo boat from Salalah, Oman and once on shore we had to introduce ourselves as anthropology graduates. 

Our project “The Invisible Island” focuses on the issues locals are struggling with – isolation from the rest of the world, the effect and consequences of war, identity crisis of the native population, lack of prospect and development etc. In all the personal stories we have researched and photographed, we have also incorporated a representation of the unique and endangered environment of Socotra. 

We have interviewed Salma, who inhabits a small stone cottage on Detwah Lagoon. Salma was born in a cave near the lagoon. She lived there with her whole family. The land belonged to them for decades, but they were about to lose it on trial in court. Salma spent 2 months in prison, protecting the land that belonged to her ancestors. Such quarrels over land are very common among natives in Socotra, now that the people have foreseen the economical potential of this heavenly beautiful island. Socotri people are often selling their properties to foreign investors, mostly coming from the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, for an amount of money only enough to by a second hand car.  Salma, calling herself “the queen of the island”, said that she would never sell her land. She is concerned that the traditions of the natives will be lost, due to the foreign influence.

We captured the daily life of Mohammed, the brother of Salma. He still inhabits the family cave, near the beach. His daily meal consists of fish and a little rice. He told us that once on the island there was famine. Decades ago, people were so starved that they didn’t have enough strength to burry those who died and had to abandon their bodies in a small cave. Mohammed took us to this cave that he regularly visits. He seems to be more optimistic, than his sister, thinking that Socotri traditions and language will not be forgotten. He is convinced that women, even when they are married to a foreigner and living abroad, would still pass it to their children. Mohammed took us to the cave in which he lives. He told us stories about the jinns, inhabiting the island. 

We photographed a Bedouin family living in mountain. Their home is located in the only Dragon Blood tree forest on Earth. Dragon Blood trees (Dracaena cinnabari), as long as another 700 species of plants and animals are endemic and can be found only on Socotra. Unfortunately all Dragon Trees are quickly dying and no one knows the reason. All environmental protection projects on the island are ceased, due to the war.

Bedouins are passionately interested in the live outside the island. Occasionally they visit the nearest town to buy supplies and to take the chance and download some videos on their smart phones. Back home they show the videos to their neighbors. They also use their phones to share videos of the local “poets”. According to an old tradition, poets compose verbal poems (as Socotri language doesn’t have written form) dedicated to politics or important social matters. Then their poem is spread mouth by mouth (nowadays phone by phone) and other poets who do not agree with their opinion are challenged to respond, composing another poem. This social phenomenon is called The Poets War.  

We asked locals about the political situation on Socotra. Some people told us that because of the constant ongoing war and instability on the main land, probably it will be best for Socotra to separate from Yemen and seek either autonomy, either some alliance with the Emirates. Others speak gladly of the president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi (current official president) and think that Socotra must stay as it is – part of Yemen. The influence of the Emirates on the island and the results of their economical support are well visible. The Emirates are funding the constructions of new roads, of modern hospital and schools. All their projects have explanatory signs and carry the Emirates flag. The electricity in Hadibu, the capital of Socotra is free of charge - a donation from the Emirates. It is no surprise that the majority of the people speak in their favor. 

Apart from the presence of the Emirates, on the island are locates two military bases of Saudi Arabia.  People say that when the Saudi soldiers came the official announcement was they are here for peace keeping purposes as they are an official ally to the Yemeni government against the Houthi rebels. Also they were sent to train Socotri soldiers.  

We met Salem. He is 30 years old and used to live in a cave only a decade ago. He learned English thanks to programs funded by a Czech University and is currently working as a supervisor in a fish factory near Hadibu. He dreams of the modern world, full of opportunities, where young people can afford to travel to other countries and can use the internet whenever they want to. Nevertheless, Salem said that he would never leave the island permanently. He said that even they fell in complete isolation from the rest of the world he would still be able to make up a living - doing as his ancestor did – milking goats and collecting Dragon Blood tree resin. 

There is a serious contrast between the landscape outside the capital Hadibu and in the city. The streets of Hadibu are covered in dirt and trash is randomly disposed everywhere - dramatically different picture from the pristine white beaches away from the city. In the small shops you can find basic supplies as flour, rice, canned fish and beans etc. The currency is constantly fluctuating and devaluating. Locals can’t convert their savings to dollars or to any other currency, as the bank and exchange offices have banned it. People are not sure what the future will bring, but they feel relatively safe as at least there is no actual war happening on the island. They are following the news coming from the continent, discussing politics, fishing, the weather and football. And still they are aware that their little island would need decades to catch up with the global pace and development. They are picturing a bright future for themselves. They hope that eventually the war will be over and the island will be once again open, welcoming tourist and foreigners. There is no doubt that Socotra has vast potential. The only concerns are which country will actually take advantage of this natural beauty; what will be the outcome and the benefit for the native population; will they manage to preserve the fragile, endemic environment and the Socotri cultural heritage.

Writer: Rumyana Hristova

Photographer: Georgi Kozhuharov  

Georgi Kozhuharov

My name is Georgi Ivanov Kozhuharov and I live in Sofia, Bulgaria. I am a press photographer for the Bulgarian media group called Economedia and in the mean time I work as a freelance documentary photographer, covering stories from war zones and focusing on humanitarian problems. I am driven by my desire to engage the audience with visual compelling stories, uncovering issues of global importance.


Marina Byanova


The PriME Element

It was 4.6 billion years ago when the planet Earth was formed; 2.5 billion years ago, significant levels of oxygen created the atmosphere and only 200, 000 years ago, modern humans evolved. It took a lot of time for our planet to create the optimum conditions for our existence. The harmonious balance between light, air, water and earth was the key factor to developing our life in a healthy and natural way. The heat of the sun, the earth beneath our feet, the air we breathe and the water we drink are essential to our existence/ to stay alive. 

Approximately 220 years ago the industrial revolution began, human activity rose, production became automated and faster, human desires got bigger. Increasing all type of production also increased the contamination of the atmosphere, oceans, drinking water, soil, deforestation of the land… our activity is faster than the planet can recover. The balance has been destroyed with over production and contamination and its effects have become damaging and destructive for us. 

The facts show that the Earth has experienced rapid warming in the last 150 years because of the human impact on the environment. Research, which focuses on analyzing the climate trend in the Common Era confirms this. 

Marina Byanova

My name is Marina Byanova. I have a Master’s Degree in Law and Economics at the University “Carlos III” in Madrid, Spain. I spent one year in Lausanne, Switzerland in an Erasmus program. Currently, I am living in Sofia, Bulgaria and working as an accountant. 

I took part in a beginner photography class, “Conceptual photography” part 1 in 2017 and part 2 in 2018 and a Master’s class at the beginning of 2019 in Photoconcept school, Sofia, Bulgaria.

To date, I have participated in three exhibitions:  The first one was in November 2014 and it was inspired by my 30 day hike from France to Muxia, Spain which is called “Camino de Santiago“. The second one called "View this photo" was in December 2018 for charity. The last one was a 1-day exposition on 28.06.2019 called “The other things”. Photography has consistently been an area of interest for me and my goal is to make a career out of this passion. 


Jodi Hilton


During the Kosovo War, (1998-1999) under threat of ethnic violence, many thousands of Roma fled Kosovo. As many as 17,000* may be stateless and undocumented in Serbia, which has the highest number of Kosovo Roma in former-Yugoslavia. In Belgrade, one young family is living on the margins, in a shack on the edge of the city, without plumbing or electricity or the possibility to work legally.

As governments from Italy to the US to Australia turn their backs on asylum-seekers, the former Yugoslav Republic of Serbia has instead developed a path to legalization for stateless people displaced by the conflicts of the 1990s.

The procedure for legalization is complicated but Alia and Fljurija Katunari have modest dreams: to live in a normal home, work in the formal sector and to eventually send their two children Elvira, 3 and Elvir, 1 to school.

*Council of Europe Report, Commission for Human Rights 


Jodi Hilton is a photographer and journalist focused on migration and minorities who has spent the last decade working in the Middle East and Southeastern Europe. Her images have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, National Geographic, Der Spiegel, Newsweek and others. 

She has produced images for organizations such as UNDP, IRC, Oxfam, The Humane Society and MSF. In 2016, she was a co-recipient for a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and, in 2017, and also a recipient of a grant from the Robert Bosch Foundation.

Her photographs were exhibited in the joint exhibitions "In Prima Linea: Women Photojournalists in War" (Turin, Italy 2016) and "The Body as a Work of Art" (Tel Aviv, Israel, 2017). 


Katja Goljat


Gas, Grass or Ass: Nobody rides for free

USA, 2016

Fifty years after the Summer of Love, the psychedelic culture of the 1960’s lives on within a ragtag group of counter culture Deadheads and social outcasts, who take to the road each season, traveling the US by bus, creating random families, looking for freedom, love and a safe space from the world’s problems. I fell in with a group on a recent summer and spent three weeks in a kind of fever dream on a former church bus traveling from east to west with a multigenerational group searching for a miracle. My project Gas, Grass or Ass is a diarist account in pictures, words and audio clips of this journey. My traveling companions filled their pockets with crystals and let the wind tousle their hair as they rode around listening to the Grateful Dead on scratchy speakers. The smell of cigarettes permeated the air and the sound of filling up balloons with laughing gas brought us closer to the next concert.

Katja Goljat

Katja Goljat (1982) is self-employed professional in culture and is a freelance photographer based in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The author, who is active in the field of contemporary and documentary photography, uses her works to present topics that excite her and reveal her own intimate world or take her to the worlds beyond, where there are stories of people whose lifestyle is a result of social transformations and strives to deviate from the cultural norms. For her, the camera is a magical device that translates her feelings and realisations to images.


Spasiyana Sergieva


The buildings light up

Monumental buildings that are alive. The big panel blocks which send out people in the morning and gather them in the evening. The relationship between the giant buildings and the spaces between them. These people are the eyes with which the panel block looks outside. 

My idea to continue this project is a new series of photographs through which I will show how people live in individual apartments. I will show "the living life" from the inside, people are the eyes through which the panel sees the outside. These eyes look in a different way at night, in the morning, at dusk, at noon. The dynamics are different. As a person lives with different dynamics, the panel block also lives with different dynamics: in the morning, afternoon and evening. 

Spasiyana Sergieva

Spasiyana Sergieva (1996) is a freelance photographer based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Her interests are in the field of photojournalism and street photography. Spasiyana is a student of photography at the National Academy for Theater and Film Arts „Krastyo Sarafov“. She has participated in several exhibitions:

  • BG Press Photo 2016, a joint exhibition with two series of pictures – „People of Sofia“ and „Tatto Fest“

  • BG Press Photo 2019 – „Ballet – Swan Lake“ series

  • Participation in a street photography contest organized by the „Photo and Video Club“ at the National Student House 2018 – First Place Award

  • Participation in the general photographic exhibition „Light and shape“ 2019, Poland, Warsaw

In her projects as a photographer, she places the focus on black and white dynamics that tells the social trapped in it is contrasting features and It’s similarities and oppositions. The contradictions between the movement of the city and the static of human life, held in the social frameworks: the profession, the role, the age are one of her main focus. In the contradictions between the movement of human life expressed in the rehearsal, the dream, the purpose, the laughter, the sadness and the geometric statics of the urban space that they enliven.


Stoyan Nikolaev


Such Appetite

Occupational safety manual part 2.

Stoyan Nikolaev

Freelance cinematographer and photographer based in Sofia.


Vladimir Zivojinovic


The First Serbian ski jumper

For the past year I have been following the extraordinary story of Nikola Stevanovic, a 15 year old boy who is convinced he will be the first Olympic ski jumper from Serbia. He and his dedicated father have sacrificed everything to fulfill this dream. 

Building hand made tracks, training on make shift slopes with no government support, the two are pursuing the Olympic dream despite the enormous sacrifices. 

The father and son have let me into their lives, and allowed me to see not just their unique training but their personal lives in Serbia and now in Slovenia where Nikola is enrolled in school and training on the mountains. 

I intend to follow them in preparation for the 2022 Olympics and present this early work now for your  consideration.

Vladimir Zivojinovic

Documentary photographer from Belgrade, Serbia. Focused on news, features and humanitarian issues in the Balkans with assignments from Le Monde, ESPN, AFP, GQ and others. Vladimir won the first prize on 16th regional competition for the best photojournalism photography organized by the Beta News Agency, Belgrade, Serbia in 2019 and was finalist for the KOLGA TBILISI PHOTO FESTIVAL the same year. In 2018, he won the first prize in the category "Everyday Life" on SERBIA PRESS PHOTO. The same year, he was finalist for the LensCulture Awards Black and White Photography.


Rosina Pencheva


Gergana in Stride: Ongoing documentary since 2013

For decades arts and culture in Bulgaria have been struggling. There is a lack of state funding, lots of management scandals, fraud and corruption. At the same time there are some very passionate artists who make their art despite all these discouraging problems. The stories of such artists should be told and a visual archive of their creative work should be left behind.

Gergana is an actress who puts amazing passion and energy in her work. This very intimate story makes visible what the theater audience is not able to see but also
– is not supposed to see.

Notes by Gergana Zmiicharova during rehearsal period:
– Overdosing rehearsals can have the following side effects: unexplained bouts of indignation against innocent people; white spots in memory; simultaneous stupidity overcoming a group of people; uncontrollable nonsense talk.

– I limp with my left foot;I repeat the same thing over and over again like a broken record; I weave braids; I twist my feet, tangle texts; I am being carried somewhere;I carry someone...

– I don’t know where I am. I'm not. I'm not at all. In a sense – I don't exist.

Rosina Pencheva

Rosina Pencheva was born in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. As a child she spent long hours backstage at the local mime theater, where her mom was rehearsing; as a grown-up one finds her backstage anywhere where art is happening but mainly in Sofia where she now lives.

Rosina graduated in Visual Arts with specialization in Photography in NBU, Sofia. She was selected for master classes by Edward Keating in 2014 and Scott Brauer in 2016. She is specializing in photojournalism and documentary in the field of cultural heritage and arts. What interests her is documenting long-term processes. Precisely the act of making – the doubt, the uncertainty, the failures and spontaneous changes in the plan – all important stages in the creation of something meaningful and with a cause. She has worked as a museum photographer for over 4 years. Often works and collaborates with cultural institutions, foundations and artists.

Her work has been shown in a number of solo exhibitions: Parallels – 2015-2016, at the City Square, Gabrovo; Working Title– 2014, Selected by EMOP, Rubber Gallery, Sofia and 2015, City Art Gallery, Gabrovo; аnd several collaborative and group exhibitions.