A guide to the New East

My girl

One photographer's ode to her best friend

Kristina Podobed is an unmistakable young talent championing the female gaze in Ukraine. Her photographs faultlessly capture the intimacy and intensity of female friendship that I've known in my life. I never had a sister: everything I’ve learned about female intimacy, outside of my relationship with my mother, came from the time I spent with my girl friends. At school, it was through my best friend that I learned the value of love and gratitude, resolution and reconciliation, all of which I’ve carried into my adult life and my romantic relationships. Through adolescence, we shared our hopes and dreams with the same fervour with which we’d scribbled “friends 4eva” on our diaries in childhood, not forgetting the confessions of shame and heartbreak that accompanied getting ready for every night out. While some of my earliest friendships have not lasted, I remember them as a prism through which I learned about myself and the defining aspects of being female.

Podobed has shot commercial work for such feminist publications as Areola and the zine Girls On Film, and has photographed inspiring female figures such as Kiev-based star on the rise Luna, who’s reinventing Russian-language pop her own way. To this day, women have been the only protagonists of her photos. It’s no surprise that Podobed’s mentor is fellow Ukrainian photographer Anastasiya Lazurenko, who’s immediate, unadulterated style she borrows from.  

“I like shooting girls, they seem more interesting to me. Maybe that’s because sometimes it’s harder for me to get along with girls than with boys. But I still have lots of cool female friends and acquaintances, and shooting them is easier as we trust each other and are therefore are more liberated in front of the camera,” the photographer says. It is her friends that Podobed enjoys shooting the most. “I find that professional models are less interesting to me, plus I always have the opportunity to work with them on commercial shoots. In personal projects, I need something more genuine,” she divulges.

“It’s just two young girls hanging out together: with one of them, by a chance, documenting it all”

Her longest collaboration has been with her closest friend, Anya. “Anya is my best friend and that says it all. I met Anya almost instantly after I got my hands on my first camera, so it all started without any artistic intention,” Podobed reveals. The photographer says she began documenting her friend on a whim, to capture moments of their life in Odessa. “Someone may see all this work as a photo project, but there is no project behind it at all. It’s just two young girls hanging out together: with one of them, by a chance, documenting it all. As I’ve been growing and identifying myself as a photographer more and more, Anya has always been near,” she adds.

Though Podobed always remains behind camera, her presence is still felt by the way she pays attention to the different sides of her subject, drawing out clues to her own character in the process. The photos of Anya flit between admiration and aspiration, authenticity and play, concern and longing. Their home town, the photographer adds, has much to do with the carefree nature of her images: “Odessa is very light-hearted, the sea helps with that.” As documents of balmy summers and the wild freedoms of youth, these photos are also tinged with an inherent transience.   

“We are still young but that was a more youthful time — hanging out together, attending parties, Anya sleeping around mine a lot. Then, we simultaneously moved to Kiev to lead more adult life. I can say Kiev is good for us. But since we are both in relationships, have lots of professional responsibilities and simply live in different parts of a big city, we spend less time together. So I take her pictures less often.” But she insists that the project is not finished —  “I think it will never be finished. I hope it will last throughout our lives.”

Text: Liza Premiyak
Image: Kristina Podobed

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