Ivaylo Donchev was born in 1989 in Sliven, a small town in south-east Bulgaria. His enthusiasm for sports was ignited shortly after when at the age of just 3, he was introduced to skiing. Having tried various different sports, at the age of 15 he came across what has now turned out to be a lifelong passion – skateboarding. It was namely skateboarding that threw photography into the mix for Ivaylo (almost by accident) when one day he grabbed a small 35 mm film camera and quickly took some random photos of his friends jumping stairs. And as with every lasting story, the rest is history.
Little by little, alongside skating, he got more and more involved with documenting the ups and downs, tricks and lives of his friends. In an unusual twist of fate, after a few serious injuries, being behind the camera turned out the be the best way to stay close to his skateboarding passion so he gradually developed his skills more and more into photography and videography, creating some of the most recognised skate movies in his home country. While studying for his Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture in Bulgaria’s capital – Sofia – Ivaylo continued to discover the various angles of photography and filmmaking and hone his skills both in and away from skateboarding. So much so that shortly after graduating, he decided to follow his curiosity for art by joining the Royal Academy of Arts in the Hague, Netherlands to study Documentary Photography.
“Most of the things I knew I had taught myself so I believed I had talent and I knew what I was doing with my gear. But I was missing something. I wanted to develop my understanding and skills in storytelling so I decided documentary photography was the right way to do this. As to why move to Netherlands, I’ve always known the experience of living in another country, in another culture, will change me and my vision significantly. Sometimes we all need this.”
The link between documentary and extreme sports photography may not be as straightforward to anyone else, but it came naturally to Ivaylo. Influenced by his roots and childhood, growing up surrounded by extreme sports enthusiasts and professionals as well as experiencing first-hand snowboarding, mountain climbing, motorsports and skydiving, Ivaylo wanted his photography to uncover the stories not just behind the achievements and highs of professional athletes, but also how the human body and, more impressively, mind can be taken to such extremes both physically and mentally.
“At some point, though, I realised that everyone sees things differently so in order to reach more people with my work, I had to be able to show it in multiple perspectives, revealing more layers of a certain sport. Take skateboarding for example – at first all my friends (who were also skaters) were crazy about the photos because of the timing of the shot and when it captured the trick were perfect. They knew how hard this was to capture and that’s what grabbed their attention. But to many others who weren’t involved in skateboarding, there was nothing special about these images. It makes you wonder and you start to think about it differently. I think my degree in architecture really helped because it inspired me to find unusual, more refreshing ways to blend together the environment, the athlete, the trick, the timing…and still manage to tell the whole story in one image or in some cases in a series of images.”
At the moment Ivaylo is based in Sofia, where he’s set up his production company “ID Productions” and is working on developing his team and further expanding his skills and expertise in and outside of sports photography. He regularly travels nationally and around the world, covering many different projects across the globe.
“I am always excited when I come across and get involved with new projects especially in action sports. I am totally obsessed with the whole process from planning through execution to delivering the best possible results. It’s incredible when you do something, anything, for the first time and personally finding such unknown challenges for myself is up there in my list of favourite things to do. It’s how you learn the most; the best way to grow!”