Mihaela Aroyo

Mihaela Aroyo is a documentary photographer based in Varna, Bulgaria. She started her career as a press photographer, working for the Bulgarian newspaper “Trud” and BulFoto Agency. However, she later decided to become a freelancer to focus on long-term storytelling. Her work explores themes such as cultural identity, history, folklore, environment, and personal stories.

Mihaela holds a Bachelor’s degree in Photography from New Bulgarian University and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in History. She is also a VII Academy Level 3 alumna. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, National Geographic, and Die Zeit.

Since 2019, Mihaela has been actively involved with the Bulgarian diaspora in the historical region of Bessarabia, located in Moldova and Ukraine. Her curiosity to meet the diaspora has grown into a deep connection, and her work now revolves around this community. For the past five years, her project “Dreaming in Bulgarian” has documented the culture and explored identity with an emphasis on history. Mihaela has visited over 60 villages and towns in Bessarabia, recording audio interviews with community members, photographing traditions and daily life, and building friendships with the people.

In 2022, National Geographic Bulgaria published her text and photographs describing her journeys to Bessarabia and presenting stories from the community’s past and present. Mihaela’s project on Bessarabian Bulgarians also earned her recognition in 2023, as she was named a finalist for the Magnum Foundation’s Inge Morath Award. She also received The Everyday Projects Grant to support her ongoing work on the same project.

Awards and Grants:

2024 – New York Portfolio Review

2023 – The Everyday Projects Grant – winner

2023 – Inge Morath Award – finalist

2023 – Hamburg Portfolio review


2023 – VII Academy Program for Narrative and Documentary Photography, Level 3

2023 – The Path as Destination – workshop with Vanessa Winship and George Georgiou

2022/2023 – VII Masterclass Arles – scholarship recipient

2022 – Personal documentary photography – workshop with Stratos Kalafatis

2021 – ongoing – St. Cyril and St. Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo – Master of History

2019 – Nikon-NOOR Academy Masterclass

2013 – 2017 – New Bulgarian University – Bachelor of Photography


2022 – Root – Solo Exhibition, Sofia, Bulgaria

2022 – Root – Solo Exhibition, Varna, Bulgaria

2022 – N/ARODNA ZEMYA, Group Exhibition, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

2021 – Projection by VID Foundation at Photo Vogue Festival, Milano, Italy

2021 – BG PRESS PHOTO, Group Exhibition, Sofia, Bulgaria

2021 – Memento Vivere, Group Exhibiton, Sofia, Bulgaria

2020 – Shared Light, Exhibiton in collaboration with photographer Denislav Stoychev, Sofia, Bulgaria

2019 – Rediscovery of heritage, New Bulgarian University and UNESCO Regional Centre Sofia, Bulgaria

See more about Mihaela:

Mihaela Aroyo

(b. 1993 in Varna, Bulgaria) is a freelance documentary photographer. In her work she explores themes such as cultural identity, history, folklore, environment and personal stories. Aroyo holds a Bachelor’s degree in Photography from New Bulgarian University and is currently enrolled in a Master’s program in History. She is a scholarship recipient for the VII Masterclass in Arles 2022/2023. Has her work published in The New Yorker, National Geographic and Die Zeit.

Dreaming in Bulgarian

2019 – ongoing

What shapes the identity of Bessarabia – a historical area that changed its nationality eight times over the last two centuries? Bounded by the Prut River on the west, the Dniester River on the east, and the Danube delta on the south, Bessarabia is the homeland for a handful of ethnic minorities. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the area has been divided between Moldova and Ukraine. Before that, Bessarabia was used as a bargaining chip in the peace treaties that followed the wars of the 19th and 20th centuries in Europe. 

I explore the identity of Bessarabian Bulgarians who found shelter in this obscure land. While Bulgaria was under Ottoman rule, tens of thousands of Bulgarians migrated to the flat Bessarabian steppe, which was then part of the Russian Empire. They have since put down roots and absorbed the cultures of other peoples, but to this day they have preserved their native language and traditions in their stepmother countries.

Today Bessarabia is home to 300,000 Bulgarians. The population however is melting at a rapid pace. The post-Soviet shock is still being felt in this economically neglected region, and people are again migrating in search of a livelihood in larger cities or abroad. Those who remain take pride in their ability to preserve the traditions of their ancestors and feel a special connection to their homeland.