July 5, 2016 by American College of Sofia
Interview by Petia Ivanova ’97
Choosing whom among the over 700 talented ACSers to interview is never easy. Even after narrowing the pool down to the senior class because it’s their last chance before transitioning from ACS students to alumni, this still leaves 140 wonderful young people with interesting stories to share. This year, senior Angel Kozlev caught our attention, and he didn’t even have to hit us with one of his juggling props. We saw him handling his flying objects, got acquainted with some of his photography work, and on the day of his matriculation exam (“It was OK”), he was kind enough to stop by and share his hobbies and dreams with us.
When did you start taking pictures? Did you instantaneously fall in love with photography, or was it an acquired taste?
I started taking pictures in 9th grade when I joined the ACS photography club, which is run by students from the upper grades. It was kind of boring with the same five people attending week after week. The next year, I took over the leadership of the club and, together with my friends Konstantin Gerov (Kosyo G.) and Konstantin Karchev, I introduced some changes. The new advisor, ACS biology teacher Thomas Houston, is a photographer with a lot of experience and was a welcome upgrade. Kosyo G. bought proper photography equipment first, so he was better than me and I was kind of following his lead there.
I have always been interested in visual arts. When I first started yo-yoing in 6th grade, back in 2009, I attended the national championship and won the junior competition by a long shot. I got sponsored by Nestle and went to the first European Championship. At a yo-yo competition, you are assessed in terms of technique, not making mistakes, musical choreography and stage performance; all these things combine to award you points. There are one-minute qualifications followed by a three-minute freestyle, which is your main performance. An important part of yo-yoing, and something you need in order to be involved in the yo-yo community, is making videos of yourself doing tricks. I set up the camera and do my own video editing, so that got me into editing and visual arts.
Another friend from my class, Anthony Kirilov, is interested in movies. That was another thing that brought me to visual arts and photography in particular. I joined the cinema club to just try it out, but it has definitely turned into a passion of mine. You see, it is a unique way to present reality, and the possibilities you have are endless.
In photography these days, is it mainly the quality of one’s equipment that determines the quality of the outcome?
I don’t think so. What is important in my opinion is the sense, feeling and meaning behind the photo. Even if it’s not a high-quality one, a photo can be great. One of our beliefs in the photography club is that you don’t need a good camera to take a good picture.
Is there an image you have always wanted to capture?
Well, everything. When I started taking photographs with Kosyo G., we were just trying out different things, like light, techniques, portraits, landscape, everything. I just like the idea of taking the image of something and showing it to others through my eyes. What we wanted to show people was not something certain or predetermined, but just the world as we see it.
When did you start juggling and loving it?
When the yo-yo shop in Sofia started selling juggling props, I bought balls, rings, and clubs. And then for 2 years I didn’t do almost anything with them; I just had them and practiced some tricks every now and again. And then this year, Misho Milev from Grade 11 came up to me and said, “Let’s start juggling.” So, we started practicing together and now we go to intersections with traffic lights, which is actually illegal, and earn some money juggling.
If it’s not a secret, how much money can one make by juggling at traffic lights?
Well, it depends on how good you are in terms of technique, how likeable you are in front of people, and how many cars there are. But I have managed to buy more juggling props with the money raised, so it is definitely something.
Has juggling helped your photography? Has it helped you with school assignments?
Juggling teaches you a lot about concentration, how to set goals for yourself and practice until you reach them. The tricks you do with your props in the air – you don’t know how to do those (well, in theory you know) – but in practice you have to teach your muscles to act in a certain way and to control your prop in a certain way, so that when you throw it your mind can calculate the trajectory and move your hand to catch it.
Juggling teaches you hand-eye coordination, and with enough practice your throws become so accurate that you can control their rhythm and height. What I like most about it is that you can be really creative with tricks because every single move can be commanded with the mind and there are a lot of possible things to do. Juggling is like art but is much more physical than photography and, like dance, is complicated to explain. It’s funny because the most general definition of juggling is object manipulation, and object manipulation is basically everything.
Juggling helps me relax, too. I get into my zone, start thinking only about the tricks, and feel isolated from the outside world.
Maybe that is what makes it dangerous at traffic lights?
No, the cars do that. I’ve seen cars making a left turn all the way from the right lane. There are some crazy drivers out there.
Teach us something about balance.
Well, balance is a broad concept. When you balance something in juggling, you do that on your face – chin, nose or forehead – the props being balls or clubs. So, in order to maintain your balance you have to look at the top of the object (demonstrating with a club). When the balance shifts one way, you have to shift the other way to restore it.
What if something falls down?
You pick it up and keep going.
What do you want to be known for?
I have two idealistic ideas of things I would love to do. First, I want to be a video game designer and create the most amazing games ever. I don’t know what they’ll be about except that they will be amazing, reach everybody, and teach them something. Video games are gaining huge popularity as we speak; everybody plays video games on their phones. There should be more creative space for designers to create more experimental games and teach players something not only about the game itself, but about the world. Fortunately, there have been great games like this made recently.
There was this experiment done in the US, I think, where they created an educational game about historical events. The game did not state the facts, but only gave you an impression of what it was like to live in that period and what the problems of the people were. Later, when they tested the students on the subject, the impressions of daily life and ordinary people’s problems were the only things they had learned.
My other idea is to create a performance act combining many different disciplines – dancing, music, photography, animation, circus arts like juggling or acrobatics, well, everything.
Describe the color yellow to somebody who is blind.
What a hard question! Well, it would have to be something like the sound of birds singing or water running. No, wait, that’s rather more green than yellow. When you wake up in the morning and you go outside, and it’s quiet, just the sound of bugs, there’s your yellow.
What inspires you?
Everything inspires me: good movies, good books, good music, good juggling, good teachers. Everything I can draw on. I have always tried to explore different arts and sciences that I don’t know anything about, just to learn a little bit about them, and see how they can help me find my path in life.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your life?
Writing homework assignments. I have no motivation to do my homework and it’s very hard to see the benefit of it when I know that I have a good grasp of the material, I know the theory, and someone just tells me to do a two-page essay on it.
I have always been a visual and auditory learner and writing doesn’t really help me. I cannot see it as helpful for me. I know it is for many, though. I do regret that, but I just never learned the habit.
Who helped you the most get to where you are?
My parents have always been supportive, always interested in the things I like, and they have financially supported my hobbies. They almost never set an expectation for me that I have to strictly follow, but instead we have a lot of discussions about conflicts and problems. My parents and my friends are my biggest supporters.
What were you like as a kid before yo-yoing and juggling and all that?
I have always been interested in science and theory. In the last 3 years, I have turned to more creative activities. I don’t know why, but they make more sense to me now. I find something I like and start doing it. If something bores me, I drop it and find something else to do. I have tried lots of things, maybe too many. My greatest regret is that I don’t play an instrument, so there’s something to try and learn.
Who would win a fight between Spiderman and Batman?
Spiderman. I don’t like Batman. He is just rich. I love the Dark Knight though; it’s the best superhero movie, in my opinion.
Do you recall your worst and best days at ACS?
No. My weeks have always been filled with extracurricular activities – between the photography club, the cinema club and the fortnight theater club. This year I have been juggling during almost every break, anywhere there is space to juggle. I’ve noticed that there are people who are like magnets for my props and there are people I never hit, just like I have never hit anyone in my family even though I juggle around them a lot. My grandparents live on the floor above our apartment, so I suggested that we make a hole in the ceiling so I can practice properly.
What will you take with you once you leave ACS?
Everything: the amazing people I met here, the people from the photography club, juggling club, circus club and my friends who have always supported me. I love the memories of parties and of those few teachers that understood me even if my grades weren’t great.
Also, one of my favorite things here at the College was being part of a community. I have attended most school events, taken photos of them just for the fun of it, not as an organized assignment. It is interesting, cool, helps me practice and it does the job, so it’s perfect. I’ve always tried to be part of this community and to pass my skills and knowledge onto others, teaching them what I can.
What is the best lesson you learned at the College?
Sometimes you have to do things you don’t like or want to do.
Where and what next?
I’ll be studying in the UK, but I’m still deciding between two universities. I will be studying Computer Science and after that I hope to start making video games. I don’t really need a degree for that but if something fails, I’ll still have job opportunities this way.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to be free. And a video game designer is the perfect job because it will let me work in my creative medium. My ultimate goal is to be my own artist, musician, developer, designer, everything. I want to be able to work on everything in the game. I don’t think it’s possible, but I want to do it. I think that in order to reach a level of cooperation with others that makes for the perfect result (that amazing video game I told you about earlier) would be extremely hard. If I work alone it will be much easier because I will know what I want to portray with the visuals, audio, design, everything. This will be the easiest way to do it in theory, but I suspect it will be more difficult in practice.
Do you have a message to our alumni?
There are great people at ACS with amazing goals and skills, and I want to see and know and eventually learn from all of them.
Sofia, May 2016