Authors: Svetlana D. HRISTOVA-VLADI
Keywords: local festivals, story, visibility, local imagery, photogenicity.



“Communities and Identities” Department, Institute for Philosophy and Sociology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

Address correspondence to: 4, Serdika str. 1000 Sofia. Phone: +359 884 281 391. E-mail:


Objectives. This study focuses on the visibility of three local festivals in Bulgaria: Rose Festival in Kazanlak, July Morning at Kamen bryag and the Festival of Peppers, Tomatoes, Traditional Foods, and Crafts in Kurtovo Konare. The research on festive visibility has been deconstructed to three components of analysis: story, local imagery and photogenicity (colors, photographic visuals).

Material and methods. These include participant observations, in-depth interviews, analysis of visuals (both website and media ones as well as photographs, taken by the researcher), and desktop research of scientific literature and online media outlets.

Results. The researcher conducted fieldwork as participant observer, interviewer, photographer, and visual analyst of festive events. It was discovered that the Rose Festival promotes pink symbols as prevalent elements of the cultural-historical branding, encompassing Thracian heritage and rose farming. July Morning has been commodified towards fragmented celebrations happening in the peripheral moment of 30th June and 1st July. This has obscured the sense of community and the sense of place affiliated with the initial phenomenon. Local farmers’ aesthetics and diligence play a central role in the publicity of Kurtovo Konare Fest: their agrarian knowledge and willpower to actively participate in social life, upskill and exchange know-how with fellow famers.

Conclusions. The three local celebrations represent collections of sensations, colors, imagined experiences, memories, visitor’s expectations, sense of community and awoken sense of place. The optics of the Rose Festival in Kazanlak comprises of contrasting messages: the pink aesthetics is representing the beauty and the traditional means of local livelihood; however, the flashy pink ambience somewhat mutes the demands of the rose farmers, seen in the pieces of critical journalism. July Morning Festival has been largely deterritorialized from its original place to dispersed celebrations which do not recur the initial code of conduct. In the locality of Kamen bryag, however, the scent of wild nature and sea salt still reunites a few generations of like-minded people, mostly admirers of rock music and camping. The heart of the optics of Kurtovo Konare Fest are the village producers, eager to raise voices in defense of their production and generate a distinctive local ethos.

Keywords: local festivals, story, visibility, local imagery, photogenicity.


Local festivals are “themed and inclusive” events within local communities which celebrate the specific way of life in the community in a certain space and time (Jepson & Clarke, 2014, p. 3). This study draws upon the visibility of three festivals in Bulgaria: Rose Festival in Kazanlak (Central Bulgaria), July Morning at Kamen Bryag (Eastern Bulgaria) and the Festival of Peppers, Tomatoes, Traditional Foods and Crafts in Kurtovo Konare (also known as Kurtovo Konare Fest, Southern Bulgaria). Exploring visibility of the festivals from the researcher’s point of view means analyzing the character, distinctiveness, public image, and the extent of recognizability of these events. The visibility review has been decomposed into three components: stories, local imagery, and photogenicity.


Local celebrations capitalize on the symbolic weight of the narratives and myths surrounding the festive localities. These narratives are not as much about history as they are about the way local people construct their identity and sense of place (Bird, 2002 as cited in McClinchey, 2014, p. 141). Indigenous narratives, whether relying on historical fact or legend, are largely imagined to fit a desired local identity. Festivals are also viewed as “place image boosters” (McClinchey, 2011, p. 2). Festivising places (cities) is a global process related to the so-called “creative economy” (Howkins, 2002). Keliyan (2022) assumes that while in economic theories festivals serve the “creative branding” of cities, a sociological view might call the process “artwork” (or “designing images”), which is a creative thing, however − in some cases, the result might be quite made up (in other words, manufactured, invented) (p. 64).

Petkova (2022) lists both “visible” and “invisible” benefits for local communities of launching a popular holiday. Among the “visible” ones are the economic benefits and enabled cultural expression of the residents. The “invisible” paybacks, on the other hand, encompass fostering community pride; strengthening relationships within the community; building a sense of social cohesion; assisting in overcoming prejudices and stigmatization towards certain social groups; helping to overcome social alienation; giving rise to hope (pp. 82-103). Creating local history could be added to the invisible benefits as well.

Local imagery

Local imagery involves the human factor (the people), the physical scene, the sense of place and the connectivity of all these. The image of a concrete locality could be either cognitive-perceptual (refers to knowledge and beliefs about a place) or emotional-affective (refers to emotions induced by a place) (Freire, 2009, p. 421). Scholarly literature recognizes the existence of identity based on the sense of place. The illusion of social and cultural homogeneity and integrity is an inseparable feature of attachment to a place. Rodaway (1994) calls such meaningful emotional and cognitive conceptions and representations of physical space “sensual geographies” and divides them into perceptions as feeling and perceptions as cognition. Although scientific literature pays substantial tribute to the static image of a place, dynamic image is also worth studying, especially since local people are part of it (Freire, 2009, p. 422). Therefore, quality photographic and video footage of local people would, by any means, boost the place as a geographical domain (Freire, 2009, p. 420).


With the aim to examine the visuals of the local celebrations, on the one hand, the author traces the differences between official festival photography/ media photos, and, on the other hand, pictures taken for research purposes during the participatory observations. For the purposes of the study the American informal term “optics” is utilized, as it means “the public opinion and understanding of a given phenomenon as shown by the public sphere and the media and the possible political effects of this coverage” (Cambridge Dictionary, n.d.).

The art of photography is developing in parallel with tourism, as photographic images help us “master spaces in which we otherwise feel uncertain” (Sontag, 2013, pp. 14-15). Photography is by nature “an act of intervention”, as the camera can “penetrate, distort, exploit, and, at the extreme end of the metaphor, kill” (Sontag, 2013, pp. 18, 20). With the industrialization of this art craft, photographs do not remain mere art or touristic images, but are “implemented” by the controlling institutions as a symbol of documentary truth, albeit simplified; hence, an event becomes significant if the ruling ideology gives it a name and classifies it, and then determines whether it deserves to be photographed (Sontag, 2013, p. 26, 30). The latter statement could be viewed as a trend in the “official” selection of photos: what deserves to be photographed by the authorities is the beauty, not the mundane.

When interpreting the images, it is essential to consider their context, as well as the relationship between the image and the outside world (Burke, 2010, pp. 435-441; Goleshevska, 2020). An essential thing, as spoken above, is who is the contracting authority of the images, who endorses the pictures. It makes sense to examine photographs and other visual products in the social context of their production and consumption, as Ruby proposed (1981, p. 4). To comprehend a photograph is not a simple act, says Burgin (1982) – it construes a ”visual language” which denotes objects into codes of connotations, overlaps texts, and is situated within a concrete cultural or historical conjuncture (pp. 143-144). For these reasons, dedicated paragraphs in the paper inquire how the photo images have been beheld by the municipally recruited professional cameraperson, and which way scenes, colors and social actions have been grasped and deciphered by the researcher.

Material and methods

The article is based on in-depth interviews and participatory observations, conducted in 2021 in three festive localities in Bulgaria: Kazanlak, Kamen bryag and Kurtovo Konare. Other methods include desk research of scholarly literature, online media articles, and analyses of two sets of photographs –taken by the researcher and photographs from online media and official sources, such as municipal websites. Photo shooting of people and objects was allowed within the context of the three events by the organizers (which are the municipality in Kazanlak, volunteers’ group at Kamen bryag and the community center in Kurtovo Konare) for research and media purposes, as well as for the photo archives, social media channels and the webpages of the organizers. The pictured people were informed what the pictures will be used for. The photos currently belong to a research project, funded by the National Scientific Fund of Bulgaria (see Acknowledgements).

The in-depth interviews were conducted as follows: three in Kazanlak (with municipal representatives and a local journalist: respondents K1, K2, K3); four in Kamen bryag (with volunteering organizers and with a local NGO leader: respondents JM1, JM2, JM3, JM4) and three in Kurtovo Konare (with the community and cultural center’s organizers and with an active citizen: respondents KF1, KF2, KF3).

Results and Discussions

Rose Festival in Kazanlak


Kazanlak, the largest non-regional city in Bulgaria, is the center of a rose-producing region with centuries-old traditions in the extraction of rose oil and other essential oils. The town of Kazanlak and the neighboring Karlovo have been proverbial in the dispute over whose rose festival has been more long-standing. Often, the identity of a locality is asserted through confrontation with another locality, on issues such as who pioneered what. Research by the Historical Museum in Kazanlak found that the Rose Festival was organized for the first time in Kazanlak in 1903 as a celebration of charity and kindness. Funds were collected for poor families, elderly people, orphans, and disabled. With a decision of the Council of Ministers in 1971 the Rose Festival in Kazanlak was declared a national holiday. To date, it is celebrated from mid-May to June 6, promptly when the rose picking takes place.

Local imagery

The traditional events in the cultural program include the annual election of a Rose Queen, reenactment of rose picking, and the city-wide march called “The Parade of Aroma and Beauty”. The annual ritual of crowning the Rose Queen is a patent owned by the City of Kazanlak and may only take place in this municipality, and only during the Rose Festival. The criterion for selection is the most beautiful female high school graduate from Kazanlak. The jury of the competition consists of active citizens, former Rose Queens, representatives of cities twinned with Kazanlak, etc. The Rose Queen typically becomes Kazanlak ambassador for yearlong and travels with municipal delegations to twin cities. “Being a Rose Queen is a big responsibility in a small, provincial town,” says respondent K3 and claims that all the “queens” have fulfilled their higher education studies by simultaneously being committed to their duties as Rose Queens.

Kazanlak has been “packed” as a single, integrated cultural and tourist product (in municipal organizers’ opinion). The purpose of the newly built tourism infrastructure is to deliver a multi-sensory experience, including aroma, taste, visual aesthetics, sports, leisure, history of the Bulgarian Enlightenment, culture, local lifestyle. The idea is to keep the visitors in the city and its surroundings for a longer period. As an adjunct, the municipality of Kazanlak invested in a comprehensive branding of the city: streets were renovated, inter-block spaces were restored, sidewalks were widened, exteriors were renovated, and landscaping was renewed in parks and gardens. The benefits of the city’s revitalization are tangible: increased tourist flow and promotion of the brand “Kazanlak” by tour operators and foreign media.

Although the branding symbols of the Rose Festival are credited to Kazanlak municipality, they would not be effective forms of communication if the media of the message were not the citizens themselves (Aronczyk, 2008, p. 54). Photographic footage of local people dynamizes the perception and boosts the locality as a geographical brand (Freire, 2009, pp. 420-422). “All, absolutely all citizens” are on the streets of the town during the festive period (respondents K1, K2). Sunday’s culminating march – “this spectacular, lavish parade” (respondent K1) is the most tangible expression of active citizenship. “Did you notice which way people of Kazanlak congratulate each other? Instead of “Greets on the Rose Festival”, they say “Happy Holiday” (respondent K3). The Rose Festival has been internalized as a holiday of a distinguished local identity, of being kazanlachanin (born, living, associated with Kazanlak).

The most vivid and photogenic embodiment of the human factor is the Sunday Rose Parade, with the diversity of marching citizens: both young and adult, varying by ethnicity and professions, either locals, or guests. The walking performance, as it should be called, is inclusive: there are marching actors with masks of animated characters, kindergarten and school-age children, local factories’ employees, members of interest clubs, Kazanlak artistic and creative intelligentsia, and so on. “And towards the end of the procession you might not have expected that the employees of the Municipal Hygiene City Service have also marched with their brooms” (respondent K3). The Rose Festival leads to a public, city-wide unification of citizens, cultural institutes, and authorities. This is the period “when people forget their political affiliations” (respondent K3).

The researcher has revised 77 media articles to reveal certain trends in festival messaging (all Bulgarian festive events are concerned). It was discovered that building publicity of local festivals through unique finds (e.g., creations, local products) appears as a message in ¾ of the texts. In journalist’s perception, such unique and innovative novelties, related to the Roses celebration in particular, are:

  • “Upgraded” products, e.g., “Kazanlak rose ice cream” − a combination of roses and strawberries, prepared on the public square by the prominent TV star and chef Uti Bachvarov.
  • Rose-related “know-how”: the one-of-a-kind rose-related scientific conference, held during the festival.
  • Do-It-Yourself fragrance workshop where people can combine aromas and produce their own perfume.
  • In 2011, dogs from a local shelter for homeless animals marched with the poster “If I sit down for you, and would you stand up for me?” As a result of this mini campaign, initiated by the then-Rose Queen Simona Petkova, six of the homeless dogs have been adopted. As a follow-up, the same Rose Queen managed to raise BGN 6,500 through a social media charity platform, named “Give a paw – donate a heart” (e.g., books and clothes for dogs).

Yet another trend in media coverage recounts the role of the holiday package and agenda in attracting tourists (53.2%): for instance, the City of Kazanlak combined two brands, that of the Valley of Thracian Kings and that of the City of Roses and endorses a joint regional cultural-historical branding.


When constructing the public image of Kazanlak celebration, two dominating metaphors occur: that of the tender prettiness of the rose and that of the beauty of Bulgarian women. It seems that the entire celebration “optics” is subordinated to the pink aesthetics: roses, real flowers or in a stylized image, the pink head wreaths, the rose color dressed Rose Queen and her runners-up, the reenacting rose pickers, and the whole pink ambience, including decoration, commercial rose products, merchandize. What could be noticed within the official photography of the Rose Festival (photo collage 1), is:

  • Manipulation of space by layering 2-3 symbols of Kazanlak in one integrated image (the Rose Queens photographed against the background of rose massifs; folk dances next to rose brewing).
  • A nod towards the anti-discrimination/ inclusion principle (photo shooting of various marching entities, with a focus on the most vibrant groups),
  • A hint of intergenerational visibility (at the rose bars, both younger and elderly women are taken picture of),
  • “Everyday life” reenactments as a marketing tool: local actresses and folk dancers are representing the ritual of rose picking, all dressed in the costumes of a “temporary celebration” (Stoilova, 2021, p. 82),
  • Shots of award ceremonies, official speeches, concert moments, etc.

Photo collage 1. Stylized rose as a patent of the City of Kazanlak. The Rose Queen and her runners-up in a rose field. Reenactment of an old times family heading to rose picking. Credits to:, the City of Kazanlak’s website  (to see Photo 1, please click here)

It is easy to assume that the researcher’s photo selection is different (photo collage 2), as it is based on the specific viewing angle of the observer and on findings from the in-depth interviews. A local journalist voiced an opinion that the City of Kazanlak does not have an advertising strategy regarding tourism. The critique of the media person was related to the fact that the Municipality of Kazanlak requires establishing a municipal enterprise to produce merchandise for Kazanlak festivity. (A few celebration “pillars” have been formed in the cultural events calendar of the municipality, such as literature events, folklore and other music fests, venerations, related to Thracian legacy, etc.) A remark was made by respondent K3 that street merchants sell wreaths made of artificial roses, while it is easy to make wreaths of locally produced dried roses and offer them to buyers throughout the street stalls. A few photos of women and girls with rose wreaths on the top of their heads were taken by the researcher as a reference to the journalist’s statement.

Another theme in the researcher’s selection is the abandoned rose fields. Kazanlak Rose Festival is euphoric: festivity has been invented through drafting an abundant program, filled with positive self-presentations, in which the intended criterion is exuberance and rose symbols. Nevertheless, an unbiased observer could notice that a piece of social reality has been subtlety erased from the over-branded imagery: i.e., the problems of the small farmers, the seasonally recruited rose pickers, etc. who somewhat do not match the institutionalized picture of the event. It seems that during the feast of the senses, the inconvenient “rose’ rhetoric seemed to be muted in a “political and social silence” (Adams, Hoelscher, & Till, 2001, p. xxiv). According to observations, the “optics” of the festival does not address logical and up-to-date messaging, such as appeals to preserve the rose as a national treasure; to prevent the illegal export of rose plantations outside the country borders; to upgrade the existing national law on rose oil; to restore the old glory and stabilize the price of the Bulgarian rose oil; to counter-measure the rising gas price which has implications on rose oil extraction (Vateva’s media article, 2021); to take decisions for the abandoned rose massifs and the eradication of the rose fields; to start monitoring, assessment and sanction regarding the deterioration of the quality of Bulgarian rose oil; to plan subsidies for rose farming, as well as for export of the processed products, etc. A similar issue has been observed during a festive event in Shumen, Bulgaria, by a fellow researcher: the festival’s focus on “cohesion” and “tradition” failed to address current social issues at local and national level (Marinov, 2022, p. 49). Yet, the researcher, with an inexperienced eye of an external observer, captured unpopular moments and counterintuitive characters (e.g., a foreign male tourist with a rose wreath over his head); visual intertextuality (photo of a photographer while taking photos); a woman picking roses with a baby in her arms; selfies of young girls among the rose fields, etc.

Photo collage 2. (top left to right) Reenactment of rose picking, Ovoshtnik village. Folklore children’s ensemble at the Complex Damascena celebration, 6th June 2021. A foreign visitor with a surprised face at a stand with souvenirs. Foreign girls with rose wreaths attending the rose picking reenactment in Ovoshtnik village. Photos: the author (to see Photo 2, please click here)

 July Morning Fest, Kamen bryag


The big myth surrounding the July Morning (also referred to as July) phenomenon is where it originates from. Could it be referred to as a cultural dissidence, a manifestation of resistance of the Eastern Bloc’s youth against socialist regime, an alternative public sphere or an “invented tradition” (according to the term of Eric Hobsbawm)? The paragraph will draw upon Robert Levi’s “autoethnographic” text, “July Morning as a National Phenomenon”, published on ResearchGate. The author is one of the first “July people”, who observed and participated in the making of the original July Morning – a wild, informal summit of hippies (Levi, n.d., p. 7).

According to a reliable version of how the phenomenon has begun, the pioneer of July Morning is a famous Varna hippy man named Stoyan (Tyanata), who has been on army duty in mid-1980s in the night of June 30th against July 1st. He would welcome the first rays of sun and would vow to himself that not a single person should greet the first of July morning on one’s own. In a media article Boncheva (2011) tells a story that in 1986, 10-12 Varna citizens gathered on the “Rock meadow” in the Sea Garden. The following year, on June 30th, Varna hippies invited like-minded peers from all around the country in the Sea Garden. If using Gladwell’s terminology – the “stickiness” factor may be distinguished in this case, which is the presence of a specific message with a memorable impact. From the following year onwards, the July community grew into a geometric progression: a local party has turned into a nation-wide phenomenon.

Berger’s concept (1999) of the “counter-communities” comes to help in describing July’s community: this is indeed a subculture, “subworld”, which communicates in its own language and constructs a semantic universe, distant from that of the fellow citizens (p. 137-138). July pioneers had an own “subworld” which honored the Beat Generation as cultural code, accessories, and literature; they were intellectuals in dissidence, free to live out secession from the norms of the Day as previously consented within the borders of the “subworld”.

A sense of community thrives when individual members are willing to invest time and energy into the group (McMillan & Chavis, 1996, p. 856). Identity myths are experienced and shared through ritual action (Holt, 2004, pp. 65, 189). The ritualized practices of July associates included: having “a long-haired” soul; having Robert Pirsig’s book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values” in one’s backpack; hitchhiking to the festival location, so on. The tentative landscape: tents and sleeping bags situated across the rock meadow in Varna’s Sea Garden. Groups by interest were formed on a non-territorial basis, discussing books, music, plays; new songs were being composed. In the morning, everyone would wake up before sunrise and all eyes would be focused on the horizon towards the East. There would be “one beer” reward for whoever sees the first ray of sunshine. As the first ray of sunshine appears, Uriah Heep’s “July Morning” would play (Levi, n.d., p. 55).

Local imagery

The following chapter attempts at guessing why Varna became July’s Location. First, it is a “seaport with numerous salesmen returning from capitalist countries” (Levi, n.d., p. 36). Second, in terms of music, “the largest collection of gramophone records is in Varna” (Levi, n.d., p. 36). Third, there is a connecting personality, a legendary “hippie” character who “spreads information about music, books, movies and lifestyle” (Levi, n.d., p. 32) from outside the borders of the Eastern Bloc. The “stickiness” factor is also present (according to Gladwell’s concept): “heterogeneous youth groups ready to accept the proposed style” (Levi, n.d., pp. 36, 37). Finally, there is a “sensual geography” (Rodaway, 1994): the sunrise over the sea horizon cannot be rivaled by any sunrise observed from other points within the inner country.

From 2005 onwards a few mayors along the Black Sea coast happen to initiate July Morning celebrations with municipal funds. The most popular among those “institutionalized” July’s is Kavarna Rock Fest. It has taken place at Kamen bryag (a locality near the town of Kavarna) thanks to the former mayor of Kavarna, Tsonko Tsonev, a self-proclaimed “kmetal” (a neologism merging the words “mayor”, or kmet and “heavy metal music fan”). Both media and respondents claim that the Rock Fest has inscribed Kavarna on the rock map of Europe.

We started doing [July Morning] on a larger scale in 2004, in my first year as a mayor. In 2006 John Lawton, the second original vocalist of Uriah Heep, was invited to perform at Kavarna Rock and since then until 2015 he kept on performing every year. People started to come, huge things happened, events; we gathered 10,000 people at Kamen bryag.” (respondent JM1)

Today, with zero municipal funds at hand, Tsonev continues to organize Kavarna Rock Fest as an informal July Morning at the “Bonfire” in Kamen bryag with a group of “friends-enthusiasts” and “volunteers”:

One German guy, B., provided a stage truck [for free], Y.Ch., the photographer, who has a villa nearby, offered an electric generator. K., a former municipal employee currently running a bar in Kavarna, delivered and operated the sound system. The performing rock band is from Russe, and they came to the fest at their own expenses. Many people helped with manual, porters’ work, and these are friends of mine for whom July Morning has been a mission” (respondent JM1).

Engaging isolated countryside setting for festival locations is “a geographical marginality”, an escapade into an idealized peripheral world; the reconnection to the simple living, the interconnectedness between the attendees makes everyone “reset, recharged, renewed, refreshed, ready for the mundane again” (O’Grady, 2015, pp. 76-96). With the years following 2005, the festive geography has gradually altered, as it has spread from Varna southwards along the Black Sea coast and inside the country into locations such as Tutrakan (on the Danube), Burgas (at the Black Sea), Zhrebchevo dam (in the inner country), Shipka peak (in the inner country). The initial eastmost iconic scene has been dislocated over time, reshaped and customized depending on which point the audiences would be heading to at the liminal moment of June 30th versus July 1st. If, previously, a person would travel to the festive place (since the context of the event is to experience a journey), now the July Fest reaches out to the audiences upon demand. Clubs and municipal administrations started to capitalize on July’s publicity. July-before consisted of “atomized” (Levi’s term) hippie groups from different parts of Bulgaria, sharing a “subworld” that was built on musical preferences, literature, ideology and lifestyle. With the expansion of the festival geography and the number of worshipers of the rising sun, July has become decentralized and fragmented. Rock music has transitioned into bagpipes folklore, hip-hop, pop and pop folk (Hristova, 2022, pp. 119-120). And July celebration has been longer free of charge.

And yet, against the background of the scattered and particularized celebration, July Morning at Kamen bryag managed to cohere a community of like-minded people, drawn by good music and wild nature, belonging to the age “40 + to 60 +” (respondent JM2). Nevertheless, this is not the counter-society of the 1980s; yet, it is a preserved rock society, which continues to cultivate “musical preferences, attitude to nature, and the word freedom” among next generations (respondent JM3).

Holt (2004) assumes that myths in branding originate and are fueled by autonomous, often non-elitist, subcultural worlds. Brands demonstrate “literacy and fidelity” when manifest understanding of these codes; when the brand “sacrifices its broad popularity” to uphold the specific ethos they have derived from (Holt, 2004, pp. 65, 189). The commodification of July has begun with its gradual alienation from the group which has created it. An attempt to translate the above-mentioned thesis into the language of Holt (2004): with the massification of the celebration, the narrative of July has gone beyond the limits of its original subworld and inherent cultural codes. The realm of values ​​and ethos, to which the Fest had belonged, are no longer professed or have been reformulated; the organics of July’s habitat have been modified. The-then guitar sounds and playback from battery-powered tape recorders have been updated to concert performances sponsored by municipalities and promotion companies. The freedom of sleeping bags on the rock meadow has been replaced by wild camping in posh campers; the semantics of the original July have been remodeled – from an alternative public sphere to a piece of mass culture. The protest connotation and dissidence have turned to echoes from the past. The vibration is different − the old hippie “nomads” do not identify themselves in the renewed context: the events would address entertainment, marketing, economic benefits rather than sense of community (Hristova, 2022, p. 118-119).

When reading the July Morning phenomenon through Gladwell’s view (2000) on the emergence of social epidemics (or, what becomes “viral”), one discovers Gladwell’s idea that the success of a social epidemic is highly dependent on the participation of rarely gifted people and calls this phenomenon “the law of the few”. These are the July equivalents of “the few”, below.

“Connectors” have the gift of bringing people together and attracting friends – they have the habit of introducing people from different social circles to each other. According to ethnographers, the inception of July Morning happened thanks to Tyanata − a charismatic communicator, maintaining an active network of acquaintances and friendships, with access to what has been called back then Western music and clothes, a stylish and long-haired man, a worshipper of the Beat generation and a hippie legend.

In Gladwell’s vision, “knowers” or information brokers are the people who spread messages and ideas as the latter two would have the potential to go viral. Those ideas tend to “boil” to the extent of a social epidemic. Knowers serve as an encyclopedia for news and may start “epidemics by word of mouth”. Such an information broker could be the July theorist and ethnographer Robert Levi, who has gathered and cherished pieces of information, memories, photos about the original July phenomenon.

The next category of creators of “viral” phenomena or social epidemics are the “salespersons”, i.e., persuasive individuals with powerful negotiation skills. A July example of such a person is the former mayor of Kavarna, who has had the zeal for heavy metal, a network of contacts to bring together rock dinosaurs to a small-town fest, and – finally, municipal resources to launch grandiose concerts.


July Morning festival is best communicated through television due to the capacity of the medium to engage more than one sense (McLuhan, 1964). It would be senseless to convey the atmosphere of July without the combination of both sounds and picture: the sound of rock and heavy metal music, the view of the sunrise, the visuals of people who had not enough sleep, so on.

The on-site participatory observation, on the other hand, allows involvement of other senses to the exposure: the researcher scented the smell of wild nature; rocks, washed in salty water; burnt weeds; campers; fire; the smell of yesterday’s alcohol and of unbathed human bodies. While Levi (n.d.) similarly witnessed (p. 79): “Crowd. Noise. Dim eyes. Tons of trash and plastic bottles. The smell of exhausted people”.

How the camera pictured the event though, is a different side of the visual story. Studies on the photos propagated by media (online sites, local newspapers, TV broadcasts, videos), reveal the following predominant imagery: festival attendees sitting around bonfires at the coastal area, people photo shooting the sunrise with their cell phones, rock bands performing before the event of the sunrise. Two finds are worth mentioning regarding media visuals (photo collage 3):

  • Images of the upholstery of Kavarna mayoral automobile. The municipal car of Tsonev, a mayor of Kavarna between 2003-2015, was sealed with signatures of music celebrities, collected directly on the upholstery of the car. Alice Cooper put the first signature in 2008, followed by Glenn Hughes, Tarja Turunen, John Lynn Turner, Joey DiMaio, and on the back door – the entire latest line-up of Deep Purple. “Stars’ autographs damaged the car of the municipality of Kavarna” says a press headline. An auction for the purchase of the automobile has been announced by Tsonev’s successor, with the expectation that a “connoisseur“ would probably buy it.
  • Images of graves located at the very edge of the rocky shore at Kamen bryag: those are of festival attendees who have ended their lives by falling down the rocks. There are stories about the magnetic scenery and death as intermingling elements of the sense of place. The dazzling power of the edgy rocks, interacting with the mystery of the sea and the skyline – this is how a witness depicts one’s sense of place (it differs from the narrative, provided by media outlets, which tend to explain the incidents with excessive alcohol consumption).

Have you ever felt it… when you step right at the edge of the rocks…. some people feel like they want to fly… It’s a magnetic place and for this reason we [as organizers] put a focus on safeguarding the event area with lightening balloons. Let there be no more accidents” (respondent JM2).

The magnetism and the death by the rocks of Kamen bryag is an act of July’s optics in opposition to the rising day. Death, the attempt to fly, or the desire to take off is an extraordinary way to represent the exceptionality and whimsicality of the sense of place. The first ray of light in Bulgaria appears in Kamen bryag (and Shabla to the north), hence the fest organizers praise the chance to be “the pioneers of the Black Sea coast to welcome the first rays of sun”.

Photo collage 3. Grave at Kamen bryag. The “Kmetal” Tsonev with John Lawton and B.T.R. rock band. Kavarna municipal car’s upholstery. Credits:, (to see Photo 3, please click here)

The researcher’s selection accentuates on personalities and characters, e.g., teenagers and younger children singing together with the rock bands (“we raised several generations with this music” – respondent JM1), the trash can (implying environmental care), kmetal’s rock guitar, the “ever-lasting” bonfire as an iconic hangout location (“Ogancheto”), the rock truck stage, a tireless sound engineer, and the sunrise in series mode (see photo collage 4).

Apparently, wild nature and heavy metal culture interact, team up. The truck stage, the campers, the mobile draught beer stands, etc. – they all have adapted to the outdoor situation and endured this unadulterated, thorny terrain. The elements of local geography: remoteness, wild nature, pastoral milieu, burnt mid-summer weeds, edgy rocks, disobedient sea and endless sky horizon, to an extent contrast, to an extent team up with the aesthetic record of the human factor (here it is meant that big part of festival attendees wear long hair and emblematic clothes showcasing affiliation to heavy metal music culture). In portraying alternative music festivals in the UK through cultural geography’s perspective, O’Grady notices (2015) that by accepting the aesthetic record of different era, the festival underlines “the Do It Yourself ethic and spirit of communality” and emphasizes collective action, equality, justice, and democracy (pp. 76-96).

Photo collage 4. A girl picturing the sunrise on 1st July 2021. At “Ogancheto” (at the Bonfire). The truck stage with a youth band from Russe performing on it. Photos: the author (to see Photo 4, please click here)

Kurtovo Konare Fest

The Festival of Peppers, Tomatoes, Traditional Foods and Crafts (known also as Kurtovo Konare Fest) dates to 2009. The festival demonstrates the agricultural traditions which derived from the village of Kurtovo Konare, in the region of Plovdiv. The event consists of art workshops, photography, music performances, folklore dances, theatre spectacles, and educational seminars. It is held on the second weekend of September, when “tomatoes and peppers have already been picked. Lutenitsa (tomato chutney) is brewed live, which is a long and labor-intensive process, and tomato disco soup is prepared on the square” (respondent KF2). “The experience economy”, a theoretical construct by Sundbo and Darmer (2008), contributes to the analysis of the public image of Kurtovo Konare Fest: in today’s consumer society, people would like to experience new aspects of life and new places (pp. 4, 8). Experiences seem to satisfy this need, and their creation involves designing, managing, sales, marketing, customer feedback (Sundbo & Darmer, 2008, pp. 4, 8). Kurtovo Konare Fest is a typical example of “the experience creation” as the hosting community allows visitors to take a glimpse into local families, cuisine, and daily life in general. The Fest can also be described as a combination of gastro-, culinary and cultural tourism, as it offers participation in the culture and lifestyle of a community with a strong sense of local identity. With such an approach, tourists are convinced of the credibility of what they have learned – they are promised profundity of experience and immersion in layers of real life (Derrett, 2003, p. 52). Festivals as experiences tend to create consumer anticipation – foretasting pure pleasure of what is expected to as a quality of their exposure (Johansson & Toraldo, 2015, pp. 223-224). Constructing hedonistic imagery, as well as “fantasies, feelings and fun” adds to the unquestionable value of a cultural product (Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982; Addis & Holbrook 2011, quoted by Johansson & Toraldo, 2015, pp. 223-224).


Authentic heritage, leaning on historical facts and memories, and the feeling of pioneering (“only here”, “for the first time”) was sought to construct meanings for Kurtovo Konare Fest. According to Stoilova (2021) a food celebration needs validations, presented in the shape of mythologized historical facts, recalling of a past glory, and connecting the community of Kurtovo to legendary figures from the village (p. 113):

Alexander Dimitrov was born in Kurtovo Konare, we call him Grandfather Alexander, who brought the tomato seed, and this is how the first early tomatoes appeared in K. Konare. Grandfather Alexander has many merits: he built the first red pepper factory in Bulgaria. It was his idea to launch “Konop” enterprise, where hemp products were created, again for the first time in the country. The first peanuts in Bulgaria also grew in K. Konare, thanks to the Krichim Palace nearby… We discovered an interesting bean which grows only here and became a sensation at the festival − people cultivate it in their gardens. In K. Konare is one of the first agricultural schools in Bulgaria….” (respondents KF1 and KF2).

Through the heroization of Grandfather Alexander, the true interaction between specific agrarian knowledge, territory (Kurtovo Konare) and heirs (Kurtovo citizens) has been confirmed, for which Stoilova (2021) invented the term “gastrolocalism” (p. 144). A belief contributes to the imagery of Kurtovo Konare as an agricultural paradise – that the place is unique in respect to terroir and climate and the most proper one for cultivating tomatoes, peppers, apples (the vegetables which are in the core of the celebration). Finally, the local community possesses distinct knowledge on food and food technology, and shares an attentive memory which remembers, nourishes, and revives culinary traditions, crafts, prominent personalities, and regional milestones.

In the 13 years of its existence, Kurtovo Konare Fest became a recognizable festive location as its public charisma is based on (1) specificity of the territory (the fertile soils of Central Bulgaria); (2) sense of community (strong local identity and recollected history); (3) citizens’ determination to associate and network (with donors, artists, experts, scientific institutes), and (4) the willpower of local people for upskilling and dialogue outside the community borders. The cultural and community center “Lyuben Karavelov” – Kurtovo Konare serves as a focal point for collaboration, building trust and partnering among local farmers and external stakeholders. Sustainable agriculture and restoring the old glory of Kurtovo Konare as an agronomic region is a frequent topic for discussion among citizens and the mayor. A local resident for 13 years (respondent KF3) reiterates that: “What the team at the community center tries to do with the pink tomato is similar to … just think about champagne in France or cheddar in England. The other villages have tomatoes imported from Poland or Romania. We have a trademark here – the pink tomato. When I lived in the UK, I had never tasted a tomato. It was the most disgusting thing in the world. Tomatoes are industrial there. I would throw them to the animals. When I tried a tomato in Bulgaria – it was a new taste, completely unknown.”

Local imagery

To explore the subject of Kurtovo Konare further, the researcher consulted White’s (2015) article on branding related to community farming (pp. 45–62). At the heart of the branding lies an alluring mythology which portrays community farming as ecologically and economically sustainable, often as a magical space in which superior food is produced, farmers are being praised, and an engaged community of farm consumers is being constructed. Giving meaning and authentic value to a food is what Stoilova (2021) calls the process of “valorization” (p. 61).

Community farming provides a fruitful opportunity for growers to exchange products (to barter), to volunteer, share, donate, self-provide, initiate exhibitions and competitions, and unite to defend their rights (White, 2015, p. 48). Indeed, the people of Kurtovo reveal the potential to promote their production through capacity building and association at local level, as well as to attract attention of media, cultural actors, donors, and researchers.

In 2013, the cultural and community center “L. Karavelov” began to cooperate with the international “Slow Food” movement (Italy) and in particular with “Slow Food Bulgaria”. Kurtovo farmers were motivated to associate in “Convivium Kurtovo Konare” and start working towards preservation of old planting varieties and authentic local foods. When products are given a name, they seem to be “humanized”, i.e., they acquire character, strength, merit, fall into interrelationships and dependencies, and expectations are directed towards them. In a short while the following local varieties – Kurtovo Konare Pink Tomato, named “Big, Babin”, the Kurtovska Kapia Pepper and the Kurtovka Apple, were added into the “Ark of Tastes” of Foundation “Slow Food” (see the reference about La Fondazione Slow Food). In 2016 “Presidium Kurtovo Konare” has been established, a non-profit association that unites farming producers, the mayor of the village, and active citizens (Hristova, 2022, p. 124). In 2021 Kurtovo Konare became the only Bulgarian village on the map of smart European villages, in competition involving 734 European villages, and its “smart growth” strategy is to be funded by the EU.

Through the eyes of the public, community-based agriculture tends to offer fresh, carefully grown organic produce which is distributed directly from farms or through a network of supporting local businesses (e.g., local grocery stores), via Facebook or through non-commercial locations such as farmers’ homes, the community center, the village square, schools, museums and tourist centers. The charm of being connected to the land and seasonality has become part of Kurtovo Konare Fest. There are ethical and emotional rules regarding the admissibility of local production to the festival: for example, tomato sellers standing on the main thoroughfare, have not been allowed to participate in the farmers’ fair. “These are resellers of imported veggies, as there are no more tomatoes in our gardens in mid-September,” the farmers note. And unlike such consumption practices, small farmers would hope rather than count on abundance of tomatoes in late summer.

The sales of the farmers in the village do not always go smoothly – Kurtovo people have their clashes with the imperfect legal framework. One of the problems farmers in the area faced is the lack of regulation for “sale in jars”. Unlike other European countries, in Bulgaria small producers are not allowed to sell either jam or lutenitsa which are packed in jars. Only the citizens who have guesthouses can sell products in jars. “During a short-term exhibition, however, our farmers’ production could be on sale for the purpose of promoting local foods, and the farmers from K. Konare benefit from such permission” (respondent KF1). Before agricultural fairs small farmers claim certificates from laboratories to assert that their products are appropriate for sale. Kurtovo citizens are in hope and anticipation of a tolerable ordinance with an easier regime for small agricultural producers concerning sales.

A local community thrives when it is viable and sustainable – activism, social justice, and social capital let residents create attachment to the place (Derrett, 2003, p. 53). For the purposes of economic and social well-being, citizens feel the necessity to mobilize and associate to assess needs, priorities and resources; hence, to take optimal decisions for long-term changes, especially in response to crises (Duncan & Duncan, 2001; Derrett, 2003; Irshad, 2011; Linnell, 2013; Walters & Insch, 2018). The Pepper, Tomato and Traditional Crafts Festival follows an anti-discrimination path in respect to age, gender and ethnicity and fully addresses the notion of ​​community mobilization across divisions. Empowerment processes within the local community were triggered through provision of opportunities, volunteering, promoting equality, and minimizing social differences. An example for this is the inclusion of elderly farmers into the fair: “We are all volunteers here when the festival comes. Everyone gets involved with a hammer, …while elderly women cook. This year we are working on the MOST project targeting elderly citizens with Bcause foundation. Their main activity is to prepare lutenitsa, the prominent tomato soup on Day II, and pies. This year they also had a food stall… [Some of the elderly farmers] perform good sales and manage to buy firewood and survive the winter with the proceed” (respondent KF1).

Kurtovo Konare Fest brings positive messages also due to one more community trait: the will for dialogue of the local citizens. The forty foreign nationals, residing in Konare, have been successfully integrated as residents and have been given the opportunity to demonstrate their culinary traditions during fairs. During the Fest, locals and visitors jointly cook a “disco soup”, the prominent soup of Day II of the event, modeled after Germany’s “slow food” team which showcased how to make a tasty soup from wilted vegetables or such in a “non-commercial” shape.


Local producers contribute to the tangible character of the Pepper and Tomato Fest and towards awakening of senses (e.g., aromas, colors, tastes) – the farmers are the focal point, the highlight, the core in the event optics. They are dressed in branded aprons with the logo of Kurtovo Konare Fest, with branded jars of lutenitsa and chutney on their stands. Hand-made posters with anecdotal rhymes and catchphrases are placed above the stands. Kurtovo Konare Fest’s logo is in the red-orange color range with images of vegetables, typical of the region. Nevertheless, tomatoes and peppers would not count if not synchronized with the powerful human presence of Queen Lutenitsa 2020-2022, the bold and dynamic Kunka Dimova, a small farmer. What is adding up to the visibility of the event are the guests, who are not mere visitors but could easily turn into participants in cooking “disco soup” or preparing lutenitsa. Photo collage 5 is grounded on pictures taken from a representative of the community center, while photo collage 6 is based on researcher’s visuals. The similarity of the two selections illustrates horizontality, simplicity, and unbiased accents on colorful locals and products.

Photo collage 5. Preparation of disco soup. Branded locally produced chutney jars. Community center’s trainees prepare tomato chutney. Credits: (to see Photo 5, please click here)

Photo collage 6. A local resident of British origin selling apple cider. Kunka Dimova, Queen Lutenisa 2020-2022. Small farmers of elderly age selling local products. Photos: the author (to see Photo 6, please click here)


Local festivals share certain features in common: they strive for publicity, for bettering the reputation of the regions, for seeking media attention, for expanding tourism opportunities and not the least – for acceleration of community bonds for civil participation. In regard to the story factor, all three festive events have an intriguing narrative embedded in their raison d’être. These narratives serve as boosters of the place image (McClinchey, 2014), also – as creators of local history which further attracts – whatever they may be named – tourists, experts, media, scientists, affiliates or worshippers. Pioneering history has been in the heart of the Rose Festival. The story behind July Morning Fest in Kamen bryag roams between urban folklore, dissident phenomenon and an “invention of tradition” (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012). Generally, the narrative refers to building sense of community and a sense of place, which, in combination, have aggregated a “subworld” (Berger, 1999), constructing a unique semantic universe. Kurtovo Konare Fest broadly leans on an enriched historical narrative, coined by a few components: the heroic figure of a regional agronomist, the fertile land of the locality and the Kurtovo citizens, knowledgeable on food and specific food technology.

In relation to local imagery element, it could be concluded that the visuality of the Rose festival and Kurtovo Konare Fest is of cognitive-perceptual kind (in Freire’s view, 2009), as it is relying on knowledge and beliefs about posited artefacts, exposed to public and converted into a whole-packaged narrative. In contrast, July Morning fest belongs to the emotional-affective kind (Freire, 2009), since it induces sentiments and touches upon the bond between past and present, between urban myth and commercial reality, between nature and men. The local images succumb to and intertwine into a multi-sensory experience, involving scent, flavor, visual aesthetics, history of different eras, handicrafts, reenacted rituals and daily life. The Sunday Rose march is the most evident expression of community belonging and human diversity in action. In the case of July Morning a few characters, landscapes and depictions play central roles: a renowned “hippie” character who – it is believed, to have initiated the phenomenon, the self-declared “kmetal” and his entourage, the “sensual geography” encompassing sunrise over a sea horizon (Rodaway, 1994), a remote coastal setting as an escapade into a marginal realm. The power dynamics of associating, relying on appropriate funding and partners and constant promotion of equality turned Kurtovo Konare into the only one Bulgarian village on the map of smart European villages in 2021. Local images range from village farmers, live-cooked dishes with prevailing red products such as apples, peppers and tomatoes, and daily life in its vivid mixture of co-existing ethnic and ethnographic groups, ages, nationals and foreign nationals.

Freire’s (2009) notion of strengthening the dynamic image of a place has been largely deployed in studying the photogenicity element of the local celebrations through utilizing two approaches: showcasing photos, collected through the festival organizers’ official sites, at one hand, and scrutinizing visuals of scenes, colors and social actions grasped by the researcher, on another. The researcher’s photo selection is based on the unburdened eye of an external observer, who captures counterintuitive everyday instants and characters. Whereas the “official festival photography” tends to unfold the beautiful as contrasting to the “routine” presentations, allowing for re-creating and retouching the mundane to respond to the guidelines of so-to-say, authorized publicity. In Kazanlak Rose celebrations the most vibrant and lavish incarnation of the rose optics is the Sunday Rose Parade. The organic atmosphere of July Morning’s habitat is best conveyed by sounds and picture together, through video-shooting or TV, because the ambience touches upon more than one sense. Yet, the ultimate sensation could be achieved through participation in the event since it employs scents of wilderness, sea, salty water, burnt mid-summer grass and human bodies. Local farmers have been shaping the intrinsic character of the Pepper and Tomato Fest – they feature as camera focus, the highlight, and the core of the event optics.


The article has been elaborated on the basis of the results from the research project “Local Festivals: A Resource of Local Communities for Coping with Crises”, funded by the National Scientific Fund of Bulgaria – Ministry of Education (KP-06-H45 / 5 of 30.11.2020).


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