Maybe the most famous gay photographer in Moscow, Alan Dorodnykh shoots naked men of different ages and body types. He says he feels like a “snake charmer” when he asks men to undress for the camera. He seeks out his models on Instagram and at parties. “Every shoot is like a minor love story,” he says. “I always fall in love with the people I shoot: if you don’t, you won’t take good pictures.” Dorodnykh also hosts a monthly queer party, i2406, where he plays techno, house, and futuristic pop. His Instagram documents his best work, as well as his everyday thirst traps.
Vidimost (“Visibility”) is a documentary journal about LGBTQ people in Moscow, run by photographer Kirill Voinov and illustrator Liza Vaigult. Together, they conduct interviews with young activists, artists, musicians, and other creatives about how they came to terms with their sexualities, their lives in the face of social rejection, relationships, and the future of the Russian LGBTQ movement. “It was important for us to give people the chance to speak out, when the traditional media denies them impartial representation. As far as possible, we try and remove all elements of moderation,” Voinov and Vaigult explain.
The interviews are released on SoundCloud, as well as on a recently-established YouTube channel. The Vidimost Instagram is worth a follow for Voinov’s beautiful photoshoots with his subjects. The photographer tries to capture a sense of intimacy and unity: all his heroes are shot at home and in their favourite Moscow spots.
Nikita Egorov-Kirillov is a key member of Moscow’s club scene. He is the man behind Popoff Kitchen, a queer techno party that’s been called the “craziest gay club” in town and a “mini-Berghain”. According to Egorov-Kirillov, he wanted to create an intimate, safe space, where all visitors would feel at home.
Popoff Kitchen takes place once a month in a dark basement in the very heart of Moscow. Alongside masterminds Kirill Shapovalov, Kolya Rish, and Niel Nolan, the night hosts residencies by Harrensauna, Tresor, Pornacaptual, CockTail d’Amore, Bizarre Love Triangle, Cafe Polari, and Kok Schok.
“The most important ingredients of Popoff Kitchen are electronic music and a hot, smoky room where you can hardly see a thing,” says Egorov-Kirillov. “We created this atmosphere to put people at ease as much as possible. In the future we’d like to create a big gay festival in Russia, something like Whole in Berlin.” Sex-positivity is another of Popoff’s selling points. Party-goers often turn up half-naked and even have sex right on the dancefloor.
It’s not necessary, though, to go to Moscow in order to get the Popoff Kitchen experience. In 2019, they will hold showcases at Whole festival in Berlin and other clubs around Europe.
In Russia, drag culture is still dominated by reincarnations of Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, and Dita von Teese. Lorina Ray, though, creates unusual looks on the border between hypertrophied femininity and canonical masculinity, inspired by punk, glam, androgyny, and fantasy creatures. She shuns wigs in favour of a shaved head, which has led some fans to proclaim her a “butch queen”.
All Lorina’s outfits are created in collaboration with her boyfriend, the designer Aleksey Golubev. They sew disco ball-inspired dresses by hand and fashion bodysuits and masks out of whatever they have to hand. Lorina’s performances are accompanied by the futuristic pop sounds of the likes of Sophie and Brooke Candy, as well as the rock hits of Rammstein.
“Most people in Russia see drag as a kind of perversion, so drag queens are a taboo topic on TV,” Lorina says. “But in the last couple of years, thanks to [American reality show] RuPaul’s Drag Race, a new generation is starting to emerge from the shadows.”
Recent years have seen an explosion in vloggers on Russian YouTube who are willing to openly discuss their homosexuality, queer sex, HIV, and complex ethical problems. To the ire of homophobic politicians, these videos are not blocked — instead, they top the recommendations lists of users. Julia Geltsman is one of these figures, with a good-natured blog on her life, beauty, and fashion.
One of the most popular videos on Geltsman’s channel details the story of her male-to-female transition. In another of her videos, she describes how to combat transphobia encountered in hospitals, and also gives advice on how to come out as trans. Geltsman recently moved to Los Angeles, and now documents her experiences “starting life with a blank slate”. Her Instagram combines stunning sunsets with quick-fire beauty lifehacks.
Roman Gunt is the founder of avant-garde fashion collective Generation Z and underground venue Klub (aka Kisloty), where he offers his unique take on style and culture. His work often deals with gender and sexual diversity, subcultures, and outlandish outfits. One of his most recent works was dedicated to the LGBTQ community in Chechnya: together with photographer Nik Gavrilov, Gunt shot queer couples in important historical locations in St Petersburg, from Palace Square to the metro. You can see the results in Dazed.
Muscovite German Lavrovsky creates crazy 3D videos that play with the image of the post-human: exaggerated body, caricatured face, futuristic clothes. At times, his art is reminiscent of characters from The Sims being put through every Instagram Stories filter at once. “My works are abstract digital mess. They consist of the images that are all around me. I mix up what I see — fragments of news feeds, screenshots of friends, found photographs,” he explains.
Ezra W. Smith is taking a stand against bodyshaming and taboos around corporeality and sexuality. In her drawings, she depicts gigantic vaginas, nipples, and other body parts that are usually censored on social media. Ezra’s work is based in everyday life, situations she and her friends have encountered; for instance, she has a comic on menstrual cycles. You can buy some of her work here.
Nastya and Marina are an out lesbian couple from Moscow. On their Instagram accounts they publish photos of their everyday life and travels. When I met them, I thought they were the sweetest couple I’d ever encountered; they treat each other very tenderly, showing that real love does exist. They also have their own YouTube channel, Seventeenine, with more than 150,000 subscribers.