“In my works you will find beauty and a strong will for life, sorrow and pain, love and eroticism as constant parts of our lives.”

Bulgarian photographer Mira Nedyalkova crafts sensual and dreamlike shots of submerged models. In this interview she discusses the elemental power of water as creative inspiration, along with the ways in which she visually portrays the psychological tensions between pain and beauty.

You started off painting from a very early age, and now what you do is essentially an amalgam of painting and photography. Do you think of yourself as a kind of hybrid artist, someone who takes painterly approaches to photography while never strictly adhering to either form?

That's right, I have been painting since I was a little girl, but I always missed something. That's why, since 2012, when I started taking pictures, maybe I have found my missing element. Yes, I definitely cannot be defined either as a photographer or as a painter, but I don’t think we need to make definitions. I just do what I feel. I enjoy mixing the two arts together, looking for the best way to express myself and my inner world.

You are known for your submerged images. The figures in these underwater shots often have flowing hair or clothing while also being constricted in some manner, such as with ropes, or with a chain, or with their hands bound. What attracts you to these contrasts of fluidity and constriction?  

Yes, I like to use pain as a beauty, and erotic as a psychological way of life. In my works you will find beauty and a strong will for life, sorrow and pain, love and eroticism as constant parts of our lives…I like to fuse all of this into a single image, because I believe this is the way to start knowing life, to accept it and perhaps love it for what it is (or is not).


Some of your images have unique props such as a neck brace or an oxygen mask full of flowers for a model, a snorkel mask full of butterflies, or animals such as squirrels or a fox. What often inspires you to use accessories like this in your images?

Yes, for my works I find inspiration in music, in a good movie, in fashion, and in my dreams. If I have to go deeper, it is life itself that inspires me, with its eternal beauty and at the same time with the pain and suffering that are always a part of it. I am inspired by our existence, the relationship between people and the endless emotions that define and change us all the time. It is all the elements I use that are part of this and bare their symbolism.

In your recent series Parallel Passage, there are surreal spider-like creatures. Were these creatures digitally rendered or added in, or were they present as real objects with the model? Did you design them? 

In the Parallel Passage series I added the spider with Photoshop using spider photos I took especially for the realization of this project.

Parallel Passage

Parallel Passage

The water in many of your submerged images is often murky and almost a character itself with its own motion and contents (such as leaves, bubbles, flowers, floating bits of dirt). Is there any particular technique you have for stirring up an impression of flow and motion within the water? Is much of this done during the shoot, or is it enhanced later digitally? 

Usually all the things mentioned are like this during the shooting. I deliberately pollute the water where I will shoot. I rarely use textures to enhance this effect because water itself is very diverse and changes all the time. That is exactly why I love it so much and why it is a basic tool in my work.

What is the type of natural light that you find the best to shoot in for your submerged images? Or is the tone of light that you want for the image more of an element that you later process digitally?

I do not pay much attention to the light precisely because I can digitally adjust it later. Besides, as you have noticed, I love darker and mystical atmospheres. Darkness as well as water contain many contradictory elements and emotions, from eroticism and pleasure to horror and fear and that is what I want to reproduce and suggest to the audience.

Some of your work seems very reminiscent of Pre-Raphaelite paintings such as Ophelia by John Everett and The Young Martyr by Paul Delaroche. Were these works a particular direct influence on you? What other painters or works have influenced you?

Cezanne played an important role for me when I was a student and I was still painting. His work was a great inspiration for me and by that time my paintings were similar in technique and color combinations to his. My inspiration from Schiele came at a later stage when I started to get inside the art of photography, and it continues until today. The influence of Schiele on my work is a lot more conscious and deeper. Here, I don’t refer to the technique and images he uses but to the emotions and feelings his work provokes in me. The art of Schiele made me look deep inside my soul and discover things that have not been realized until this moment, and as a result I started to express them through my photography.

I cannot forget to mention the photographer whose influence was really huge and crucial for my work, the Polish photographer Jan Saudek. He opened my eyes to the ethereal flesh of beauty "beyond" all the happiness we can know, if we learn to accept the pain, the joy, beauty and imperfections as a whole.


How long do you generally work on an image's digital processing and enhancing before you feel you have fully rendered what you want? Do you work with anyone for objective feedback during the process? When does an image feel complete to you?

Everything is very relative and different. Sometimes I work for days on a certain project, other times two hours are enough. As with any kind of art, it is very important to be able to stop in time, because often even one element, line or note added can change the entire work. I cannot explain when the right moment is, you just feel it and you say to yourself “That's it!" The feeling is wonderful...

What is happening in the near future for you? Do you have any upcoming events, shows, or publications that you would like people to know about?

I have an idea and I'm already working on the realization of my first movie. For now, I will only say that. It is a huge challenge for me and I feel very inspired, without of course having great illusions. As I said, I just do what brings me joy and pleasure. This is my therapy for life.

View more of Mira’s work on her site and on Instagram.

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All photographs © Mira Nedyalkova