She is Katerina Zareva-Simeonova. She was the Bulgarian representative in the nine-person jury last year, which evaluated the photos at the International stage in the “Wiki Loves Earth” contest. The curious detail is that in 2015 the contest was organized in a total number of 26 countries, but not all of them had representatives in the jury. Bulgaria was invited to appoint a jury member, although the country takes part in the contest for the first time.
Katerina Zareva-Simeonova. Author: © Marcel Fens.
Due to the contest specifics, the appointed jury member had to be a biologist or ecologist with experience in photography. Katya is much more than that – she is also a big friend of the Free Encyclopedia.
After the “Wiki Loves Earth” contest finished and we announced the results, we asked Katya for an interview. We wanted to learn what it means to be a juror in a contest with so many breath-taking pictures…
Katya, present yourself in a couple of words.
My name is Katerina Zareva-Simeonova, I live in Sofia and my formal education is ecology. I have been working for 17 years in the Sofia Zoo, and I am currently the head of the Ecological scientific-educational centre in the Zoo. This is the department that accomplishes the Zoo’s function of providing education in ecology, develop educational materials and projects, one of which was the joint project with the Bulgarian version of the Free Encyclopedia Wikipedia.
Apart from the area of zoology, my interests are related to photography and popular science documentaries. I have published photos of animals and nature in various journals and books, and I have authored more than 100 educational and documentary ecological films, mainly about Bulgarian nature.
You have been juror in other photo contests, too. Tell us more about them, and what made the difference with the “Wiki Loves Earth” contest?
Yes, I have juried for competitions for children photographs and pictures, as well for film competitions on national level. For me, it was a great pleasure to be part of the International Jury of such a public photo competition like WLE, with already shortlisted pictures from 26 countries around the world. We had to review and evaluate 259 photos, showing the nature and biodiversity in the protected areas in these countries. For this purpose, we were provided with a special software tool and system for evaluation, helping jurors to calmly and independently evaluate all the photos.
What were the criteria, which the jury used to evaluate the photos. What was the most difficult part of the contest for you?
The criteria for the “Wiki Loves Monuments” contest are specific, since the contest has the certain goal of stimulating people to take pictures of the nature in their countries and create and extend the freely licensed information in Wikipedia, and in Commons in particular. For this reason, the criteria of evaluation were: technical quality, originality, and encyclopedic and educational value.
What hindered me was the huge choice of pictures of high quality and intriguing content. That was challenging for my evaluation, that had to be a very accurate and objective one. In the same time, that was for me a thrilling aesthetic and cultural experience, unveiling for me unbelievably beautiful natural landmarks and sceneries I haven’t expected to exist. I think that the concourse delivered its message and accomplished its mission, getting me to know and love the Earth even more than before!
None of the Bulgarian photos has been distinguished among the Top 15. What did we miss, in your opinion?
The winning pictures from the Bulgarian national stage of the competition depicted landscapes and animals from the natural parks of Rousse Lom River, Vratsa Balkan, Belasitsa, Belogradchik Rocks, Strandzha, Pirin and Rila mountains. All of them were gorgeous and rightfully represent our nature. At least for me, the pictures that affected me mostly, were the Belogradchik Rocks and the panorama view from Peak Vihren in Pirin.
However, the competition was really tough, and I think that our pictures lacked some originality. Both the audience and the jury are satiated with visual information, they want more colour, more of the wow-effect. It’s no surprise that the winning picture is a landscape from Pakistan, featuring buildings. Humans need to see themselves and the trace they leave onto nature, in order to compare themselves with it.
Katya, you are the head of the Ecological scientific-educational centre in the Sofia Zoo. In your opinion, how such photo contests contribute to raising the society’s awareness about environmental issues?
First, the contest participants have the opportunity to express their attitude to nature and show a favourite place or animal of theirs. On the other hand, in this very competition, where images are made freely available, this message reverberates, carries knowledge, and is capable of changing the mindset of many people.
I believe that nowadays, when people are impatient enough to watch even several minutes of a video in the Internet, photography has a particularly pronounced and direct impact. An image can take the breath away and cause great excitement, especially if it captures a beautiful natural landscape. I still think that beauty can save the world, and this is why I rely on it, rather than on the aesthetic of ugliness or of shocking imagery.
Which picture was your personal favourite?
I won’t try to hide that for me the most interesting photos were the ones depicting animals. This is my field of expertise, and I well know how hard it is to take a picture of an animal, especially in wildlife. My favourite photo, which turned out to be favourite for the rest of the jury members as well, came from Brazil and captured the moment of birth of an Apis Mellifera drone. That image received the special jury prize in the contest.
When we talk about photos of animals, why is it important to have them pictured in their natural habitat?
Taking pictures of animals in their natural environment is critically important, as it raises the educational and encyclopedic value of the photos. Animals are part of a certain ecosystem, and must not be considered outside of it. Such images are the most appreciated ones and the ones most difficult to take, especially when it comes to species that inhabit a different from humans’ environment, like river and ocean species, birds in flight, or underground dwellers.
Nowadays, with the recent advance of technologies, cinema and photography have allowed us to peek into almost every corner of our planet and see amazing and intimate moments of the lives of its inhabitants. These images have a huge scientific value, too.
Katya, thank you for this interview, and for you being a juror in the Wiki Loves Earth contest! It was really important for us that we had an appointed representative in the International Jury, as of the first participation of Bulgaria in the concourse. And even more so, that our representative was you.
Interview and translation: Vassia Atanassova
Editor: Maya Marinova