Natalia Novachkova feature image

Natalia Novachkova: The Visionary Behind ‘The Neverending Play’ Exhibition

In an exclusive interview, I had the privilege of delving into the creative universe of Natalia Novachkova, the visionary photographer responsible for the captivating exhibition, “The Neverending Play”. Displayed at the Regional History Museum of Sofia, Bulgaria, this project is a heartfelt exploration of adults holding onto their cherished childhood toys. Join us as we explore the inspiration, challenges, and the profound connections this exhibition forged with its audience.

The project images

Questions about the project:

Me: Could you please introduce your recent exhibition and share the inspiration behind it?

Natalia Novachkova: In July 2023, I was invited by the Regional History Museum of Sofia to open my exhibition “The Neverending Play”. The exhibition included twelve photographic portraits of grown up people, holding their childhood toys. The exhibition was a result of my project, which I started two years ago by searching for characters in the social medias. This project turned into an exciting process of discovering, communicating and photographing with people who have kept their childhood toys. I already knew some of them, others I met because of the project, with visitors of the exhibition whom I met on the spot we are about to take portraits.

Me: Walk us through the process of curating and organizing your exhibition. What were the key steps involved?

Natalia Novachkova: One of the most challenging steps in the organization and overall appearance of the exhibition was not to stumble on the “childish” and on the “motley”. My desire was to look at childhood from today’s distance, without imitating it, without demonstrating childish pretence.

Me: Every project comes with its own set of challenges. Could you highlight some of the obstacles you faced while preparing for the exhibition and how you overcame them?

Natalia Novachkova: At the very beginning of the preparation for the exhibition, I decided that each portrait would be in a different frame – different in size, color and style. That  way, I wanted to personify the restlessness of childhood, its color and carelessness. With this idea I embarked on a great adventure. I’ve been searching for old frames for a month, some of them I bought online, some from antique shops, others I borrowed from friends. I restored them, repainted them. It was a tense period. Just because the frames had to be different it didn’t mean that I could choose any frames. Placed together, they had to be in harmony with each other. It was difficult, but it was also a pleasure to see my ideas come true. Another difficulty was, again, related to my decision. I didn’t want to put glass on the frames so that there would be closeness and warmth between the viewer and the portrait. This meant that the image had to be secured in the frame very clean and firmly. Judging by the visitors’ reactions, I guess my concept worked out pretty good.

Me: How did it feel to witness your work displayed in a gallery setting for the first time? Can you describe that moment?

Natalia Novachkova: Before the exhibition, I had only printed the portraits to give a copy to the person I photographed. Some of them I only saw on my screen. The moment I looked around the gallery with already printed and arranged images, an hour or two before the opening of the exhibition, there was absolute silence. It was just me and the portraits. They looked at me from the walls and seemed to say  “You see? It is happening. We are real.”

Me: What were the reactions and responses from the public towards your exhibition? Any memorable interactions or feedback that stood out?

Natalia Novachkova: I expected and I hoped for interest in the exhibition, but I did not expect it to be this strong. There was a very loose energy, one of those good things that comes with childhood. I watched the visitors of the exhibition very carefully, I saw how their expressions changed while looking at the portraits, how their faces softened, how a smile invariably appeared. Many of the visitors shared their memories of childhood, and a conversation between us took place – light and spontaneous. Childhood was visiting us.

Me: Looking back, what aspect of your exhibition are you most proud of? Is there a particular element that you feel really resonated with your audience?

Natalia Novachkova: First, I am proud of the fact that I even did this exhibition. Isn’t it a huge responsibility to ask the viewers for their time, their concentration, their emotions? You have to show them something meaningful, to intrigue them, so they could experience more than just looking at pictures on the walls. I feel good because the portraits sparked interaction between the visitors and me. Many people had something to ask, something to share, tell, recommend. For me, this means that I have managed to touch their soul to some extent, that I have achieved empathy. This is not a little.

Me: For aspiring photographers interested in exhibiting their work, what advice would you offer based on your experience?

Natalia Novachkova: Do it! The way you dream of it, the way you feel it, in a time you think is right, in a place you feel as yours. If you have the urge to exhibit your feelings, your emotions, your interests, do it. And always remember that there are the feelings, the emotions and the interests of the viewer. He is your co-author and you better make a good team.

Me: What initially inspired you to choose the theme or subject matter for your exhibition?

Natalia Novachkova: I think that at the very core of this project is my interest in contradiction. “White-black”, “high-low”, “light-dark”, “old-new”… A little higher, probably stands my everyday life – often tense, noisy (literally and figuratively) and the desire for peace and joy. Where else could peace and joy, comfort and carefreeness be found but in childhood?

Each of us keeps childhood in the heart – the time of curiosity and a world discovered with eyes wide-opened. Even today, when we already live in our anxious, overworked days, childhood often surprises us by appearing out of the blue and reminding us of itself. Once we meet, we understand that it has never gone away, that its sincerity, good nature and passion for research were and will always be with us.

Me: Photographing specific subjects or themes can be challenging. What were some of the difficulties you encountered while capturing this particular subject matter?

Natalia Novachkova: There were challenges while shooting the portraits, but I wouldn’t call them difficulties, more like details that I had to take into account. Each of the portraits from “The Neverending Play” was shot in natural light, in the streets of Sofia, Bulgaria. Firstly, I talked with the person who was to be photographed about him and his toy (its history, shape, size, color), and also what outfit would the person choose. Then the background search began. Sometimes I would go around the city by myself, with an idea of what kind of background I needed. In other cases, together with the hero, we embarked on an exploration of the secrets of Sofia. We often used doors, parts of facades, fences, etc. for the background. Of course, there was one important detail here – there also had to be proper natural lighting. There have been cases where the background was to die for, but the light would kill the whole thing.

Me: What message or emotions were you hoping to convey to your audience through your exhibition?

Natalia Novachkova: Through the exhibition, and through this long-term project, I am sharing  my idea that playing should never end. There is a say that the difference between a child and a grownup is in the size of their toys : ) Even if we are grownups, there will forever be a teddy bear, an old pair of binoculars or a bicycle in our heart. And whenever we are about to climb a mountain or hit the brakes, we can call on them for help.

Me: Among all the photos in your exhibition, do you have a personal favorite? If so, could you share the story or significance behind it?

Natalia Novachkova: Each one of the portraits was created with a heartbeat, with a little nostalgia and with a smile. Each one of the characters allowed me to see the child somewhere in their eyes. They let me see some kind of vulnerability. Yes, when the characters hugged their toys, they were vulnerable. When they talked about their toys, there was a whole range of emotions. These portraits are more than images. They are also a feeling, they are sharing, a confession. I can’t have a favorite. Let’s just say that “The Neverending Play” project is my favorite. I admire the people who stood in front of my camera. They have a beautiful sensitivity and a big courage. I think of them as co-authors to this project.

Me: In terms of feedback, what were some of the notable comments or reactions you received from those who visited your exhibition?

Natalia Novachkova: On exhibition days, I was often in the gallery talking to visitors. There were quite a lot of curious and inspiring people. I remember that on the last day of the exhibition, when I was already taking down the portraits, a man and woman from the Netherlands entered the gallery. They looked at every single portrait, paid attention to every single text, and asked for words that needed an explanation (like DetMag, for example). Finally, they shared that this exhibition was one of the most interesting things they had seen in Sofia. Those words lifted me an inch off the ground and kept me that way for a long time.

The feedback

Questions about her general photography:

Me: What are your preferred themes or subjects to explore in your photography beyond this exhibition?

Natalia Novachkova: My favourite theme is the portrait and self-portrait. Environmental portraiture is a challenge that I follow. I strive to develop my skills in that direction. This, of course, does not mean that I am not interested in various other topics. It happens that I make good street or landscape shots, but I feel real immersion and passion in portrait photography.

Me: Could you tell us about the equipment you typically use in your photography? Any particular gear you favour?

Natalia Novachkova: Although I mostly shoot in digital, I have a passion for analogue photography. In addition to the “juicy” images, I like the fact that there is a slowness in it, not always everything is known, respectively, there is expectation and surprise (pleasant or unpleasant – it does not matter, for me what is important, is the process from choosing an object, through pressing the shutter, to the final result). I remember a case when my good old Zorki-4 was returned to me from repair and the service told me that they have put a film in the camera. I began to take pictures. After a month of careful consideration when to press the shutter and pressing it with excitement and hope, I realized that the film was in the camera, but that didn’t mean that it was loaded. What I am trying to say is that after a month of emotional shooting, I didn’t have a single shot. But I had the impressions of the places I had visited with the aim to shoot, I also had the emotions and hopes of pressing the shutter. I still consider this particular not loaded film an exciting experience, good shooting and a good lesson.

Me: Do you have any favorite post-processing techniques or tools that you regularly apply to your photos?

Natalia Novachkova: I like to add noise to the images. I always add.

Me: Photography and social media often go hand in hand today. What are your thoughts on the role of social media in the field of photography?

Natalia Novachkova: There is a lot of talk about how social media devalues photography and overwhelms the eye, but I think that if the viewer could discipline himself and to choose how and what to observe, to filter, to sift the images which are presented to him, then he will achieve visual peace. I manage to separate the frames in the networks – some, for me, are just documents of events and nothing more, at others I look at as pieces of art. I analyze their content and I see them as a source of inspiration. I think that social media is an advantage for photography. Without social media, it would be harder for me to accomplish my photography projects. The characters for “The Neverending Play” were discovered mainly through social networks. Again, with social media, I run the activity of a small photo gallery which is called From The Window to The Mirror. We search for and find authors mainly through the networks.

Me: Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and dreams for your future as a photographer?

Natalia Novachkova: Looking ahead I see a calm white haired woman in a house with beautiful natural light, hugging a person she loves and laughing with her children. The phone rings, she answers it and someone says that several of her photographs were sold for a good price. She smiles.

Addressing her experiences as a female photographer:

Me: As a female photographer, have you encountered specific challenges in your career? Could you share some of those challenges?

Natalia Novachkova: Long ago and today as well, women were and are expected to be multifunctional. Doesn’t matter if they are harvesting, or working nine to five in an office, or are freelancers, they are expected to combine their passions with thinking about, taking care of, understanding and predicting hundreds of other issues. I think there is a giant gap between what women want to do, what they want to focus on, what they want to be and what they are expected to be.

I am trying to solve the issue of time and organization. Besides photography, I have my daily duties, my children, my family, my social circle. It is almost impossible for me to spontaneously grab my camera and immediately run after some interesting situation without thinking about anything else. Even if it is spontaneous, it must be at a time suitable for spontaneity.

Another challenge I try to overcome is my shyness. I have a hard time talking to a stranger in the street whom I want to photograph and I often miss out on some really interesting individuals. But with time and practice things are becoming easier. After all, the worst thing that could happen is that someone would shut me down. Nothing else.


As a photographer, Natalia Novachkova is immensely proud of the sentiment embodied in “The Neverending Play.” This visual journey transports us back to the simplicity and wonder of childhood, reaffirming the eternal connection to our past. The heartwarming interactions and shared stories with the audience exemplify the power of photography in forging deep connections. Through this interview, Natalia reinforces that photography, even in our digital age, remains a timeless art form that touches hearts and evokes nostalgia.

Todor Stoyanov

Passionate about creative expression, I constantly seek new opportunities to enhance my skills and collaborate on exceptional projects.