Marina Adam took this photo for Villa Xrwa label as part of an editorial project inspired by Chinese traditional folk tales. Sima, the model, channeled the character of a Selkie, a mythical creature that resembles a seal in the water but assumes human form on land. “I have worked with Sima before, and every time I am fascinated and gripped by her authenticity,” the photographer says.
This photograph by Mariia Pisareva is part of a shoot conceived, styled and directed by Eva Ruskaya and inspired by the love and friendship of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe in the 1970s. One can sense the atmosphere of the intimate and of creative connection in the frame — but it wasn’t achieved without challenges. “Three hours before the shoot I had a break up after a ridiculous, week-long relationship, and photographing a love story of two strangers was fun, to say the least”, Pisareva recalls. “I often end up in odd situations before shoots, as if the reality helps me to find emotional shake ups and cinematic moments for more inspiration
This photograph of Suzan Diop was taken by her friend and photographer Anatoly Qungurov. The idea and the set were directed by Suzan in May, during the rising wave of #blacklivesmatter voices online and in real life. As a black lesbian, Suzan frequently writes about her experince of life in Russia and her fight for equality and representation.
This portrait of Sasha was taken by Margarita Smagina in Summer 2020 in St Petersburg, around Ligovsky Avenue, and was inspired by all kinds of urban dwellers the area attracts. The portrait has an aura of both gentle and rough romanticism. “I wanted to make the image appear slightly dusted, so I printed the photographs and rescanned them,” Smagina says.
Daria Globina took this portrait of artist Pavel Polshchikov for Kultrab’s Rip Rap capsule collection which was created to support the campaign for drug law reform in Russia. “We wanted to create something dark and daring, but also to show people’s fragility and vulnerability. I found the wire halo on the street on my way to the shoot, and it came in very handy”, the photographer remembers.
This portrait is from Valeriya Savinova’s shoot District which was shot in Moscow’s notorious neighbourhood of Chertanovo. The project playfully pokes fun at the stereotypes of tower block suburbs by filling them with young, free-spirited characters.
Natasha Pyatnitsa took this photo as part of her self-isolation diary during the Covid-19 pandemic. Multiple exposure was an accident: a few portraits of her boyfriend wearing a hazmat suit, a picture of a drawing and her self-portrait crying all ended up merged and layered. “In the state of confusion and rush we sometimes get shots which were not planned but possibly dictated by our subconscious. And behind all the protective barriers we create between ourselves and the world, there are the catarchic minutes of despair and powerlessness,” the photographer says.
This portrait is from Emmie America’s shoot in support of artist and queer activist Yulia Tsvetkova. who is currently facing prosecution for her art in Russia. To promote both the artistic expression and feminist ideas of bodily autonomy, America has photographed everyone who wanted to participate nude – including Sasha Komarova featured here.
Daria Piskareva took this photo of her friend Nastya last April. It’s saturated both with clear spring light and the warmth of creative connection between the photographer and the subject. “Sometimes portraiture creates an unexpected but thrilling moment of recognition and connection. It’s a great tool for becoming closer [to someone],” the photographer says.
Gosha Bergal took this photo in Moscow in 2019, at an impromptu kitchen party. “I love kitchen parties, they have a special atmosphere,” he says. Like most of his work, this image captures the mundane details of day-to-day life to create an intimate insight into Russia’s young generations.
This portrait of multimedia artist Anastasia Alekhina was taken by Natasha Charova as part of a project exploring collaboration between photographer and artist in front of the lens. Alekhina mainly works with new technologies and futuristic narratives: the portrait reflects not only her practice, but as she puts it, “captures my super-ego, the way I feel when I feel powerful”.
Maria Alyokhina is one of the most recognisable faces of Russia’s political protest movement. As a member of Pussy Riot, she was famously arrested following a performance of the group’s Punk Prayer at the Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow in 2012. Since then, Alyokhina has continued her activism as a co-founder of news website MediaZona and human rights organisation Zona Prava. This portrait was taken by Adelina Rvacheva for I Do What I Want, a collaborative project between clothing label Kultrab and students of the Rodchenko School of Photography, which aims to spotlight activists and cultural figures promoting freedom and self-expression.
This portrait belongs to Vera Barkalova’s digital zine Your S(M)adness Is Free. She wanted to capture depression in the face of the changing world. “I wanted to take portraits devoid of smiles or contentment. I photographed friends and people I didn’t know very well. In this photo is Zavet, a young hip-hop artist,” Barkalova says. Her work captures the air of looming uncertainty that a young generation of Russians face today.
Portraiture is an integral part of Anisia Kuzmina’s photographic practice. Her masterful work with light brings to mind the classic images of Annie Leibovitz – but it’s the playfulness, clarity and emotion which really draw you in. This portrait is of actress Varvara, one of Kuzmina’s favourite subjects.
This photograph is from Varya Kozhevnikova’s project 13.31, exploring her relationship with her daughter. Kozhevnikova gave birth at the age of 17. “When I was 31, and Lera was 13, our clothes and shoes became of the same size. This game of ‘what if I were you’ started between us. It was an experiment to find a new kind of relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter,” the photographer explains. “This project is about recognising oneself in another person, about the struggle with similarity, about separation and the general desire to get closer.”
Faeshion Left is a St Petersburg-based drag artist using makeup, self-portraiture and an array of personas to push the boundaries of gender presentation in Russia’s burgeoning drag community. This particular persona has a mystical and witchy air.
Nadia Bedzhanova is a Russian film director and photographer based in NYC. Her work, including the debut feature Beware of Dog, explores the lifestyle and mindset of contemporary global youth. This portrait of fellow photographer Masha Demianova was taken in Moscow in 2019. “This photo is my favorite symbol of Russia. Orthodoxy, big brother is watching you, and Masha Demianova, who is a photographer with a magical eye,” Bedzhanova explains. “The portrait is a part of the upcoming series called Offline Life that I started in the “pre-covid era”, and now feels like a good time to send it to the online universe.”
Drag queen Lorina Rey is committed to pushing boundaries of drag art and using it to raise questions of gender and queerness which are largely absent in mainstream Russian culture. This portrait was taken by Polina Voskresenskaya for I Do What I Want, a collaborative project of the label Kultrab and students of the Rodchenko School of Photography in the Media department, aiming to spotlight activists and cultural figures promoting freedom and self-expression.
This portrait of Olga Chernykh was taken by Dina Lun as part of a series about a new generation of creative women, their values, and aspirations. “I took this photo in Moscow. I remember Olga, who is now a Gucci model, skated to meet me and looked like a careless teenager,” Lun remembers. “I shot the series on film trying to capture the inner confidence all the women had. Now I can really see the changes — both in their lives and in society’s attitudes to gender.”
Arshak Makichyan is a climate change activist and a coordinator of Fridays For Future Russia, the climate strike group inspired by Greta Thunberg, who tirelessly works to raise awareness about the issue in Russia. This portrait was taken by Tatiana Ermilova for I Do What I Want, a collaborative project of the label Kultrab and students of the Rodchenko School of Photography in the Media department, aiming to spotlight activists and cultural figures promoting freedom and self-expression.
This photo by Julia Kaydala is from the series “Voices of Youth”, which explores the carelessness and rebellion of Russia’s young urban generation. Together with her subjects, Kaydala wandered through streets, underpasses, and city wilderness documenting their smudgy textures and deep shadows. “Young people are an idea constantly looking for an embodiment, and the street is the material and the ground for it to manifest. Everyone sometimes feels a burst of energy which needs to come out – and these guys find it in the streets in their playfulness.”
This image comes from Nick Gavrilov’s archives as an official photographer at Klub (also known as Kisloty), one of Russia’s most iconic clubs which existed from 2017 to 2019 in an industrial area of St Petersburg. Gavrilov’s portraits of its crowd of regulars are a fascinating and candid documentation of Russia’s youth in the new millenium, including this portrait of Nika a week before the club’s closure.
This portrait of musician Nastia Reigel was taken by cinematographer Artem Emelyanov in Moscow. Emelyanov shoots a lot of his photographic and video work on iPhone, using the light and setting to create a specific atmosphere. “In this photo, Nastia stands under a motorway bridge illuminated with blue light. I love how the filter on my lens turned the light into waves which look almost like digital wind,” he says.
Dima Komarov is known worldwide for his playful and earnest portraiture of Russia’s Gen Z. Entirely self-taught, Komarov perfected his craft documenting his friends and peers. This photograph comes from his very first shoot for Polyester magazine. “This was, in a way, my starting point. I think this portrait is very powerful: the texture of the garment and the light are mesmerising,” Komarov says.
This portrait by Arseniy Neskhodimov is part of his series about Kalach-na-Donu, a small town in the Volgograd Region which is becoming increasingly depopulated as young people leave. Combining street scenes with portraits, the photographer gives an insight into the more private side of the town’s existence — and celebrates the beauty and uniqueness of the place, alongside its residents, like the local shopkeeper Tatiana depicted here.
Bogdan Shirokov took this picture of Mirat in the city of Ufa in the southern Urals. It’s part of Shirokov’s long-term visual study of masculinity in Russian consciousness, and its connection to the intimacy, vulnerability, and softness of his subjects. “I talk to every person I photograph about their life and childhood. I don’t ask them what it’s like to be a man – I am trying to find the answer through portraiture.”
Olga Vorobiova has been working on her series, Lo-Fi Youth, for the five years that she’s lived in Moscow. Capturing parties, gigs, and bedrooms, it’s a coming-of-age story of the city’s Generation Z. “Since moving to Moscow, I’ve been drawn in by the energy of the young people around me,” the 28-year-old photographer says. “At one party, I realised that even though there wasn’t such a huge age gap, my generation is just different.”
This portrait of HIV and trans rights activist, Maia Demidova, was taken by Emmie America for a project about self-love in Russia’s LGBTQI+ community initiated by Kultrab label. Documented in the intimate setting of her home, Maia is one of the people doing the vital work of raising HIV-awareness in a society which has still not squared up to the problem.
“Portraiture is a long journey to understanding myself through people who trust me. This is a great opportunity to observe and document the time, lives, and stories,” says Moscow-based photographer, Anisia Kuzmina. Her portraiture is minimal, which allows the character of the person depicted – in this case, Alexander, a firefighter and actor – to truly shine.
Olesya Asanova is a photographer working between Moscow, London and NYC. She shoots both documentary and fashion, often looking for more subversive points of view on contemporary beauty. This portrait is from a collaboration with fashion designer Bogdan Vysotcky. He created a series of outfits for Tasya, his childhood friend and muse, in combination with head-to-toe costumes for “creatures” who follow her around – a blend of a fairy tale and fetish culture.
This photograph is taken from a zine titled Alina by Omsk-based Danila Ezhov. The zine is an ode to his love story with his girlfriend – he felt like documenting every moment they spent together after being apart for a while. “I wanted time to stand still,” he explains. “I’ve been taking pictures for a month during our walks and we’d always have new ideas.” This photo with the rug shows the playful, creative side of this collaboration.
This photograph by Elina Shevchenko is from a series dedicated to her childhood memories, which inspired awkward poses, bright colours, and flowery wallpaper. “I love making up stories,” she says. “My work is not about reflecting the person’s feelings but creating a setting and charging the model with my energy.”
Shot in Tolyatti in Samara region, this portrait belongs to Ekaterina Odina’s series exploring the Russian traditions of leisure, and having barbeques at one’s dacha in particular. The photographer uses colour to express nostalgia for the youth of the previous generation.
Nick Gavrilov is known for his edgy portraiture which perfectly reflects the current wave of Russia’s youth culture. This one of Sasha Trautvein, one of the most hyped Russian faces on the international modelling scene, plays with 1980s technicolour aesthetics and classic composition.
Dima Komarov is known worldwide for his playful and earnest portraiture of Russia’s Gen Z. In his world, there are no barriers between the photographer and the subject — and there is always a bit of shared experience or, as in this case, a happy accident of a four-legged friend walking into the frame.
This portrait of Tsyremzhina, who is Buryat and hails from the city of Ulan-Ude, is from Alisa Aiv’s series which explores Siberian identity in all its diversity — and its meaning for the young generation.
Dima Chornyy is one of the most prolific fashion photographers on the Russian scene often experimenting with various techniques like collage and handwritten text over photographs. This portrait is of the model Olga Zapivokhina, who has gained international success after a Gucci runway show.
This portrait is part of Maria Babikova’s visual exploration of the underground drag scene in the Russian city of Novosibirsk, which captures the contrast between urban Siberian reality and their dazzling personas. The series is also the first instalment of Systems of Order, a broader investigation into the Russian psyche and the ideas of beauty, control, joy and fear.
The practice of Dasha Tchainki focuses on the female body and gentle empathetic portraiture. This portrait is of Sonya and Nika from a series on love stories of Russian queer women. Tchainki might be soft and dreamy, but it’s still political in promoting queer female gaze.
This portrait by Turkina Faso is one of the numerous shots taken of her sister, Alice. This example isn’t connected to the sisters’ individual stories, but comes from the series RGB, exploring the abstract feeling of uncertainty and fear of the future.
Vidimost.doc is a visual project dedicated to increasing the representation of Russia’s LGBTQ+ youth. This portrait of Nikita shot by Kirill Voynov was the very first feature of the project in 2018 – and still manifests the radical power of softness and self determination.
This portrait of Irina in Kargaleyka village is part of Masha Demianova’s long-term project “Hometown”, an exploration of Russian beauty, femininity, belonging, and landscape. The photographer travelled to different remote locations in Russia to document her friends’ and models’ hometowns.
Sasha Chaika is interested in pushing the boundaries between high and low culture and exposing the surreal in the everyday. “We were at a friend’s dacha when we heard a noise outside. I still don’t understand who or what it was, but before it disappeared I managed to take this photo.”
The portrait of musician Hristina by Artem Emelianov is from a series about Russia’s non-binary community for O-zine, a self-funded online publication about Russian queer culture. The photographer has taken portraits in natural settings as an attempt to move away from the conventional binary take on portraiture.
This portrait was taken by Alexey Ponomarchuk in Karabash — a small town in the Chelyabinsk region of Russia — to raise awareness of the area’s poor ecological state after years of copper ore mining. Ponomarchuk and design collective 2.0 reimagined the Karabash landscape as dystopian future: prompting a new generation to rethink the way we live.
In her work, photographer MiliyOllie is committed to diversity, inclusivity, and challenging the representation of beauty which exists in Russian society. This photo of Alisa was taken in 2018 next to Vera Mukhina’s sculpture “We demand peace!”.
Lolja Nordic is a dj, artist and an activist focusing on women’s rights, LGBTQ issues, and the ecology. Through photography, she documents friends and allies in her community. This portrait of a musician, artist and feminist Sveta Comrad was taken at Grrr party, a femme-focused event seeking to raise funds for a range of charitable causes.
Emmie America often works with fashion photography, but portraiture, movement and capturing each person’s character is central to her practice. This photo was taken on a beach in Tel Aviv, reflecting its hectic surroundings in the blazing sun.