I went to Bulgaria last year to make photographs of a factory for Paul Smith Jeans.
We stayed in a grand old hotel, the biggest in Sofia I think. It was the kind of decaying, lavish, decadence I associate with a time before I was born. The lobby was enormous with loads of empty space and art. There were several different bars, most of them empty save for one where prostitutes lounged on bar stools, beckoning every time you walked past the door. The bedside table had a built in radio with big plastic buttons and radium dials, like some soviet relic.
When we arrived at the hotel it was pretty late, about 11:30 I think, and we sat in the bar for a few hours drinking beer. I ate a club sandwich at about half past midnight and as a result I couldn’t sleep a wink. I stayed up the whole night flicking through Bulgarian TV. Most of the channels in the hotel were porn. I watched the sun come up over the city and the first movements of people and cars on the street below.
We drove a long way out to the factory and I felt tired but as always, taking pictures perked me up. I drank a load of coca cola and got excited about making photos until it blended with my lack of sleep and I reached that deliriously alert state of hyper-productivity.
I can still hear the sewing machines if I concentrate. Endless whirring. The factory workers were very skilled, the way they put together these pairs of jeans, cutting the denim, sewing the seams, doing whatever it is they were doing. I knew at the time, It was my job to find out.
It was quite a small space, not cramped, but personal, everyone sat in rows. the hum of chatter. Would’ve made a good sitcom. I couldn’t understand anything of course. They probably thought I was weird, pointing my camera at needles, buttons, sheets of denim and thread. Even I started to struggle after a while. It was over 30 degrees and humid. Someone went out to get us food from somewhere and it turned out to be donner kebab.
I don’t know when we finished but there was this immense satisfaction that only comes from a job well done. Everything is lighter, the journey back to the hotel was ‘floatier.’ Content.
We spent the following day before our flight exploring Sofia. It felt empty, lacklustre. We walked around a square talking about how good it would be to have skateboards. The taxi driver who took us into the town centre charged us way too much money. There were no door handles or seat bets and the windows didn’t go down. We paid a fraction of the price to get to the airport and the journey was ten times longer.
Each gate at the airport had it’s own bar so we sat in the one next to ours and drank. Everyone queued up even though seats were pre booked. I don’t get why people do that. Nudging, nudging, shuffling with alacrity. We stayed at the table until the final boarding call.