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Photographer: Jacko Vassilev
Publisher: Contrejour
Publication date: 1994
Print length: 95 pages
Language: French
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Jacko Vassilev was born to freespirited parents in communist Bulgaria. As a boy, he dreamed of freedom, the simple right to plan out one's own life and destiny. Taught by his parents to "ask questions" and to "read between the lines," he courted trouble as a young student, asking his teacher after a lesson on patriotism: "People are arrested, killed by their own if they want to flee and find a better life. Why are they killing them if it is such a paradise here?" For an answer, he was forced to kneel and keep his hands in the air for at least five hours; if he let his arms drop, he would be beaten with a stick and a belt.

At twenty-eight, he put his dreams of freedom to the test, attempting to escape past the barbed wire and border patrols. He was caught, severely beaten (he sustained a fractured neck), and tossed into a slave-labor camp for one year. He befriended many of the older political prisoners, and instead of building up hate, he built up the strength to survive. While the camp was harsh, he was not subjected to the drugging and injections of the mental "institutes" where many other political prisoners languished. Though his body suffered, his mind was clear. "It was the university of my life," he states over three decades later. "I've learned from the bad people how to be strong." It is this same willingness to confront suffering and the "reality" of life that informs his work, even now.

His work is a reminder of an often-harsh reality, bringing us down to earth, and yet Jacko Vassilev is a self-described optimist. He considers it his life's work to uncover the humanity in each person that he photographs, no matter the circumstances of their lives. He believes joy is an integral part of that humanity. Witness the face of the small Bulgarian girl, swimming in her older brother's or father's shoes, as she helps a fellow creature, a dove, attain the freedom she herself may never have. She is too young to be hemmed in by her future; she experiences only the joy of the moment, of being the instrument of freedom for another.
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