Pencho Balkanski

Recently in Sofia at the National Art Gallery of Bulgaria I saw a retrospective of a 1930s photographer called Pencho Balkanski. Presumably unknown or forgotten outside of his own country, and even probably within it, he was a successful photographer doing creditable photojournalism, portraiture and fashion before turning to painting after the war. The exhibition was a little unusual in that it presented paste-ups, books and magazines, cameras, and several hand-worked portraits. Some of it wasn’t under glass so you could appreciate the physicality of the silver rich photographic papers of 80 years ago, their worn condition adding to the effect.

Balkanski was not one of the great “form-givers” of the time like Brassai (from Romania) or Kertesz (from Hungary). His work is sometimes too earnest and kitsch – you can see what you think here. But I’d like to share one example of his work. It’s part photograph, part illustration and has that razor sharp lighting of Holllywood Glamour photography. I think it’s one of the very best examples of a certain type of iconic image of the Modern Woman in the thirties.

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