Photographer Macy Zhelyazkova sometimes has to write her last name down on a piece of paper to be sure she's spelled it correctly.
"I still can't do it (aloud) from the midpoint," Zhelyazkova said, "and it's only been five years."
Zhelyazkova, formerly Macy Andrews, is married to Bulgarian native Nikolay Zhelyazkova. The couple met in Cape May, where they were both working for a short time in the hospitality business. They now live in the Villas section of Lower Township with their 14-month daughter, Audrey. During the summer, the Zhelyazkovas traveled to Plovdiv, the second-largest city in Bulgaria, to introduce their daughter to her fraternal grandparents and extended family. The trip, Macy's second visit to the country, was also an opportunity for her to explore the place through her camera's lens.
"I'm just shooting everything, literally everything," Zhelyazkova said, reflecting on the trip. "I didn't want to do too much research (on Bulgaria), because I wanted to experience it on my own. I didn't want to be biased. A lot of my photos, as you can see, show a true view of the country: A juxtaposition of the old traditions with some of the new, modern aspects."
Bulgaria, officially the Republic of Bulgaria, is a country located in southeast Europe, in the northeast part of the Balkan Peninsula. Throughout February, Zhelyazkova's Bulgarian photographs will be on exhibit at the Ocean City Arts Center, on the second floor on the Ocean City Community Center. This is her first one-woman art show.
The exhibited photographs will be for sale and will feature both the "old and new world" sides of Bulgaria, with a focus on the cities of Plovdiv, which is Nikolay's hometown, and Varna, a seaside resort on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, where the Zhelyazkovas traveled to by train during their trip.
Zhelyazkova said she went on the trip knowing she was preparing for the photo exhibition. About a year ago, she had entered a photo she took during her first trip to Bulgaria, in 2009, into a juried art show at the Art Center. She was awarded an honorable mention for the photo submission, which depicted an older Bulgarian man standing alone at a bus stop underneath of a poster advertising tourism to the country.
"That man represented the older generation of Bulgarians that I saw all over," Zhelyazkova said. "I've always had a fascination with portraits of culture. To me, that was that photo that I always wanted to take, and I felt like I was able to take it."
After seeing her work, the Art Center's Board of Directors President Jack Devine invited her to host a solo show.
"So I went with that in mind," Zhelyazkova said.
The exhibit, titled "Bulgaria: Time and Place," includes about 45 photographs divided loosely into four categories: the older traditional side of Bulgaria, the new modernized side, views from the train ride to Varna and Varna itself.
Her favorites tend to be ones that are rich in culture, specifically those with people in them, such as a photo of two women selling fresh herbs on the sidewalk, an older man beating a rug over a second story balcony and a group of gypsies.
"The old, old traditional stuff," she said. "I shoot what I like and then later I really find the deeper meaning in them."
Contact Elisa Lala:
If you go
What: "Bulgaria: Time and Place," a photograph exhibit by Cape May County artist Macy Zhelyazkova.
When: Through February
Where: Ocean City Arts Center, 1735 Simpson Ave. 2nd Floor
Call 609-399-7628 or visit oceancityartscenter.org