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Alumni Gazette

JASSEN TODOROV ’00E (MM)Heights of Composition A musician-turned-pilot-turned-photographer captures ‘places most people can’t see’—and first place in a National Geographic contest.
todorov (Photo: Jassen Todorov)

Jassen Todorov had flown his 40-year-old four-seater Piper Warrior over the airport near Victorville, California, many times. But last spring he trained his camera on the ground 2,000 feet below.

There, he flew over rows of Volkswagen diesel cars that had been stored at the site of the one-time Air Force base. They had sat in the desert since 2015, when the German car company began recalling vehicles after admitting to cheating on emissions tests.

Todorov, a professor of violin at San Francisco State University, made several passes over the eerie parking lot. The resulting photo won the 2018 National Geographic Photo Contest, the latest of several prominent awards he’s received for his aerial photography.

For Todorov, the photograph was a particularly poignant example of his efforts to share his perspective as an artist, both as a musician and a photographer.

“I like to show sites and places that most people can’t see and don’t have access to. And, hopefully, I can tell a story about them.”

A licensed pilot and flight instructor, Todorov first took to the skies as a graduate student at Rochester as a way to complement his interest in music. The more he flew, the more enamored he became, captivated by the way that flying offered him new perspectives as an artist.

When he landed a faculty position at San Francisco State, he kept up his license. He began taking photos in 2013 with a small digital camera, eventually upgrading to more professional equipment.

With an active schedule as a concert violinist and teacher, Todorov has traveled to nearly two dozen states and more than 20 countries. Along the way, he makes a point of trying to capture the view from above, and often combines his performances with photo exhibitions or talks about his photographic work.

“Music still takes me all over the world,” he says. “And often photography comes into play.”

—Scott Hauser