…was my father.
In Bulgaria, we have three names. First, father’s name and family name. Traditionally, people introduce themselves with first + family name. Right from my first year in primary school, I have always been known with my first + father’s name. Rumena Zlatkova. In honour to the inspiring person that made me who I am today.
His name was Zlatko. Born on the 29th of February, he only had his birthday in leap years. Pretty unique 🙂 He grew up in the newly-built city of Dimitrovgrad, his father was a carpenter and an all-around creative man. Right from the first years of the new theatre in the city, the men in the family (his father had two other brothers) were working in the technicians’ team, dealing with lights and sound. One of them lived up to become a professional photographer; another relative – a camera operator. My father joined the theatre as a sound technician, and spent most of his working life there.
He was also very good with all types of household appliances, equipment, mechanisms – everything that had to do with mechanics and electricity. Living in a rather poor family, he learned to fix and build his own tools and equipment. Plus, he loved reading. One of the most curios people I’ve known.
In the 60’s and 70’s, there was an information filter in Bulgaria. The regime didn’t allow almost any information or art from the Western world to pass through the borders, news were filtered, it was almost impossible to travel to another country… Yet, for a person as curios as my father, there had to be a solution. He found out the radio amateur clubs (HAM Radio) were an option. He joined one of them, where he met people like himself – geeky and curios – and they spent long nights trying to build radio receivers, antennas and listening to foreign stations, trying to contact radio amateurs from other countries and exchange information.
Music and sound were the other big part of his life. His home library was full of books on acoustics, sound frequencies and transistors. Along with the theatre, he was also working as a sound technician in the local radio station. He was using multi track recorders, and editing (everything was done analogue of course), and in his spare time, he was helping with sound on live events. Because of his work in the radio, he had access to music, and he was trying to enrich his music collection with cassettes and records from his friends’ journeys around Eastern Europe.
In the same time, he was discovering photography – a purely manual art at the time. He spent endless hours mastering the cameras, lenses, learning rules of light, composition and capturing moments. Then perfecting the shots in the dark room. Carrying heavy equipment through the mountains (he was an avid hiker and tourist), to make the perfect shot. And he often did.
As I was growing up, he was telling me and my brother about electricity and how stuff works (a normal Saturday afternoon at home was him sitting on the table with us, assembling the hairdryer or some other piece of equipment he had just shown us how to fix). He taught me how to read when I was four (I think the first thing I read was ‘Cinderella’), and how to climb trees 🙂 While the other parents were yelling at their children to come down of the tree because they would fall, he was teaching us how to choose our next step, which branches were safe and which to avoid.
Of course, he was also teaching us about sound and photography. It happened so naturally – we would be out in the mountains on a walk, he’s taking pictures with his camera, and explaining. It turned out my brother wasn’t too interested in technology – but I was. When I was 14, even though I hadn’t taken classes or even taken pictures – just from the years of little hints and tips, I knew how to operate the still camera. So one summer, when we spent our traditional 2 weeks in the Rhodope Mountains (my favourite place in the world), I just started taking photographs. This is one of the first pictures I ‘nailed’:
It was made in August 2004. While we were passing along the dam, I saw this cloud and asked dad to stop the car. I only took two photos, and the light and camera settings I chose (shutter speed and iris) were just perfect. Of course, we couldn’t see it until we came back home and took the film to be processed. But it was such a nice feeling, to see the result turned out that good.
Photography was only one of the things I picked up from my father. The other thing was music and working with sound. And attention to details. Especially important when you are working on an analogue medium or broadcasting live.
Books, reading and general curiosity were the other very important things I picked up from him – he used to give me small hints, to see if I would be interested, and then give me a book to read about it. It was great, because I either liked the book and discussed it with him, or I didn’t like it, which again helped me to search for something else I would like. We would spend long hours watching Discovery channel together, arguing about a technical solution, or simply observing, and learning. He taught me to listen – which is probably the best way to learn and get to know the people and the world around you.
Oh, and Pink Floyd. That was a big one – every couple of years, he would give me one of their albums and make me try and listen to it. It took more than a decade, but at some point I just started understanding them and liked their music. I guess he wanted to share this experience with me, and wasn’t sure when the right moment would be – so he just kept on bringing up the topic until I was ready 🙂
When I was 15, he saw I was developing interest and digging deep into sound technology, so he suggested I would take his place in the radio station for the summer. He didn’t trust many people (preferred to double check and control things himself), but he trusted me to work on his mixing desk and run the programme. And it was great! Working in a radio station is a fascinating experience – I was in the control room, so I got to choose the music, edit the reports, cue the microphones for live broadcasting, monitor sound levels – just great.
My father died suddenly from a heart attack early in the morning on the day after my prom night. Right at the start of ‘real life’, I lost my guiding light.
40 days after his death, his former colleagues brought a cassette player to the grave. ‘We were talking about it a couple of years ago – they said – which songs we would want to be played when we die. This is his song.’
His name was Zlatko. He would have turned 55 today.