Photographer’s Eye: Viara Mileva

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Viara Mileva

www.viaramileva.com

I was born in Bulgaria, went to middle-school in the UK, became an angsty teen in Saskatchewan, Canada (where I found a mate for life), had three children in Toronto, and lived with them car-free for two years in the Netherlands.

Since 2014, we have been living near the village of Bath, Canada, on a small plot of land, with our sheep, goats, chickens, dogs, cats, and donkey.

I became a photographer late, after leaving a career as a parenting scientist.

Some days I miss the community and mentorship I’d found in academia, but most days I love my new life and hope to one day achieve the same sense of community in it.

I photograph families and all sorts of events in their lives – from the birth of a child, to a stroll in the park. I’m inspired by documentary photography to reveal the truth of our everyday lives, but I’m also a sucker for the iconic and surreal. My photography is a blend of both.

A PhD in parenting, studying behavioural genetics & psychology eventually led you to photography, how and why?

The story is quite unromantic. Upon our return to Canada from the Netherlands (where I’d done my postdoc), we had a few choices as a family.

My husband and I decided to pursue our dreams of owning a hobby farm, and giving our kids an opportunity to experience a bit of rural living, knowing full well that job opportunities would be limited for both of us in our new small town, especially in a niche field like parenting science (my field).

At around the same time, I started having inquiries from clients about photography, at the beginning mostly from friends. I’d been posting my personal work – photographs of my own family – for a few years, and I guess people were drawn to my style. It was the first time I really thought, ‘I could maybe do this to pay the bills.’

I am a rather stubborn person, so once I dove into it, I held on and quickly completely transitioned out of academia and into a full-time occupation as a family & wedding photographer.

How do you connect with the people you photograph? 

I fall right in the middle between introvert and extravert. That means with a bit of training and effort, I can jump right out of myself and into a very chatty and vulnerable, silly persona. It is no less me, but it is a far more outgoing version of me. I’ve become good at identifying things about people that they like to talk about, things they are proud of, interesting tidbits. I ask them lots of questions about these things. I laugh a lot. I then take brief steps back and flip on my photographer’s hat.

Do you see science as an art form? Is there beauty in the data that you studied? Have you created works of art with the data itself?

For the most part, I do not see science as art. Perhaps this is why I eventually left.

The initial stage – dreaming up a research project, imagining the possibilities, shaping the kind of questions you’d like to ask of the world through the collection of data – that can be a very creative and inspiring process.

The follow-through is less so. I’ve written about it in several blog posts:  here, here, and most recently here .

To sum it up, I wrote,

What used to be endless hours of rating mothers and fathers on scales of “appropriateness”, “sensitivity”, and “warmth” (and always feeling like a failed parent myself as a consequence) was replaced with something much more visceral and uplifting: a documenting of parents’ struggles and joys, moment-to-moment interactions that no one remembers and that regardless somehow make up our lives.”

Throughout my time as an academic, I had a constant need to return to my creative side. I wrote a lot. Science fiction, magical realism, poetry. I published a couple of sci-fi stories, too.

What do you think of the way Sally Mann captures family relationships? 

I like the stark and emotive ambiance of her images, the impact of her isolated portraits of children. I do find it bleak at times. When I first got into photography, I was drawn to the work of Alain Laboile, who also works mostly in black and white but captures family interactions – particularly between his children – with a magical whimsy.

Years ago, I also fell in love with Matt Black’s stark and gritty black and white work on migrant workers in California. I was drawn to the black and white aesthetic for a long time. Over the recent years, I’ve transitioned away from editing in black and white. I realize that I see the world much more in colour. I crave optimism and joy, and happy surrealism. I think there are so many hardships and stresses in this world, that to present a more uplifting side – even a magical side – is important.

Storm Thorgerson is one of my all-time favourite photographers and graphic designers. His 1980 cover photograph for 10CC’s ‘LOOK HEAR?’ depicting a sheep on a psychiatrist couch on a Hawaiian beach is superb, perhaps even more so now that I own sheep and know how intensely complicated the composition would be.

Elinor Carucci is a photographer who works in beautiful colour to capture intimate, realistic, and gripping portrayals of family relationships. I admire her work and approach, and she’s a wonderful human being as well.

©Storm Thorgerson – 10cc, Look Hear?

How do you engage audiences with your imagery, is there a narrative to how you shoot?

 

When I photograph, I get lost in the moment. On a particularly successful shoot, I might not know how we got from one place to another, but I do know I was there, present in the action the whole time. My photographs have taken on an increasingly snapshot-like aesthetic. I want to create a visceral feeling of what it is like to have been in that moment. I constantly push to explore new angles, new perspectives, and give clients a photo-gallery of their lives unlike any previous gallery of mine.

One ambition? 

To live in a different country every two years, and publish a science fiction short story anthology.

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I'm the walking, talking, version of our submission requirements. From image and video workflows to tricky legal questions I'm on hand should any of our contributors need my help. I oversee our operational workflow and can often be found trying to steal the office dog.

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