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Orlin Nedkov considers Capitol Hill in Seattle a Mecca for portrait photography. Every weekend he sets out on the prowl with his Leica X2 and Leica SL, aiming to capture portraits of the people strolling around, partying, working and living there. Over time, this has resulted in numerous images, of which we are presenting a few here. Nedkov spoke with us about a fascinating neighbourhood full of individualists – a neighbourhood that is gradually changing, unfortunately.

LFI: What sparked your passion for portraying your fellow citizens on the street?
Orlin Nedkov: I feel like I'm in a never-ending state of infatuation with the people I see on the street, especially in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood of Seattle. Their beauty, bold styles and fashion, along with their creativity and independent non-mainstream, industrious urge to express themselves in unique and unusual ways, is what sparked my passion to portray them. Every one of them becomes my muse for a minute or two, while I take their portrait with my camera. By portraying them I am celebrating them.

What do you like about portrait photography?
Portrait photography, and especially street portraits, satisfies my drive to go out and take pictures of something new, exciting, different and challenging every time I pick up my camera. In the span of a decade since I started doing it, I have met lots of interesting people, and I have even formed lasting friendships with some of them. For me, taking street portraits never gets old, and I must admit, I am addicted to it!

How would you describe the Capitol Hill neighbourhood of Seattle, where you take your pictures?
Capitol Hill is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Seattle. A wealthy real estate developer gave it its name back in the 1900s, hoping that the Washington State Capitol would move there from the city of Olympia. It never did. Today the neighbourhood is one of the wealthiest in the city, mainly the north part. The north has Millionaire’s Row, while the south has Broadway, the main street lined with restaurants and thrift stores, that goes right through it. The neighbourhood is Seattle’s most popular spot for nightlife and parties. It also has a strong LGBTQ and counterculture presence. Last year Capitol Hill was the epicentre for protests all summer long. There is always a vibe of creativity on the Hill. There’s street art everywhere; there are street buskers, music festivals and block parties, and there is a farmer’s market every Sunday, year-round.

But, for me, what makes Capitol Hill a unique and exciting place is its people. The people of Cap Hill – that’s what locals call it – are flamboyant eccentric extroverts and lots of them are, I'd say, attention seekers. Chatting up a complete stranger is the norm here; everyone is very friendly and accepting. Most of them shop at second-hand thrift stores and pop-up (flea) markets, and they can create unique clothing ensembles and styles from garments most other people thought nothing of and threw away.

Here I have to conclude on a sad note. Over the last few years, Capitol Hill has gradually been losing its identity, as high tech and venture capitalist companies are moving in, with the latter trying to cash in on the housing boom. Many small, and some large, stores have disappeared; old buildings are bulldozed down to make space for new, cheap-looking, cookie-cutter apartment complexes, which only high tech bros can afford to live in. This has caused many long-time residents to flee to other parts of the city where housing is still affordable, for now. One of those neighbourhoods is South Park. I’ve been venturing there a lot lately, and although it's a lot smaller, it kind of reminds me of how Capitol Hill used to be ten years ago. 

Do you have a particular photographic approach?
Not really. I usually hang out on the Hill with friends or by myself, and, as I go on walks around the neighbourhood, I meet people on the street. I stop to talk with them and I ask to take their portrait. This happens at random places all with different lighting and different surroundings. Some of the people I meet are in a hurry and only have a minute to spare. I have to quickly assess where exactly and how to position them, in order to get the best shot. Everything is done in a spontaneous fashion and makes things a bit more challenging, but I enjoy doing it.

What makes a good portrait in your mind?
Hmm, definitely a good subject to begin with… In my mind, a good portrait is where the light and the immediate surroundings complement or create tension with the subject’s appearance, poses and actions, which the viewer can feel. I'm not sure if this makes much sense, but I catch myself trying to create something like that when I'm portraying someone. (Interview: Danilo Rößger)

All images on this page: © Orlin Nedkov
Equipment: Leica X2, Elmarit 24 f/2.8 Asph, Leica SL (Typ 601) with Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 DG DN and more.
© Orlin Nedkov

Orlin Nedkov

...lives in suburban Seattle, Washington, USA, and is a long-time Ophthalmic Surgical Tech at a local Hospital. People photography, mostly in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood of Seattle, is his hobby and passion. Unfortunately, he only gets to do it on weekends when he is not working. Since he usually approaches people on the street and asks to take their portrait, he only has seconds to try and capture something unique about them...

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