The struggle for visibility has been crucial to the LGBTQ+ community for decades. Sharing experiences and finding empathy is what makes the community both a welcoming home and a political force. Representation in both media and culture plays a huge part in the battle for equality, and even more so in conservative countries. Under Russia’s “gay propaganda law”, there is no place for LGBTQ+ people on TV or in the mainstream. Yet slowly, there are more and more places and projects where queer Russian youth can truly be themselves — and media platform Vidimost is one of them.
Vidimost, which translates into English as “Visibility”, was founded by Liza Vaigult and Kirill Voinov in 2018. The project combines portraiture with video interviews, and offers a glimpse into the lives of Russia’s LGBTQ+ youth: their homes, their style, their gender identity, and coming out stories. Despite being an activist statement, Vidimost has softness, tenderness, and empathy. It’s about creating a welcoming and celebratory space for an underrepresented community to simply exist.
At the end of 2019, the founders passed the project to their friend, queer activist, and musician Slava Rusova. “Activism is a difficult, unpaid work which demands a lot of energy and effort,” Rusova says. “Rather than stopping the project, Liza and Kirill offered to take it over, which I accepted with great pleasure”.
“Our mission is documenting the reality where we live, the representation of diverse experiences, and helping queer people feel better in a Russian context, which can be quite tough,” Rusova says. “For me, representation is the opportunity to feel like a part of something bigger, to learn about other people’s experiences, and to see people who are like me. When I was growing up, there were no projects like this: if they had existed, I believe that my life would have been different. It’s only thanks to the recent shifts in representation that I recently managed to start living in harmony with my queer identity.”
Vidimost’s team also includes Sveta Eitik, who is in charge of photography and video, and Katerina, who translates the content into English. The project is still focused on Moscow, but there are plans to start filming in other Russian cities, as well as branching out into podcasts and events. Video interviews, meanwhile, will remain at the heart of the project. “I think video is the best way for the viewer to connect with our subjects, understand, and relate to their experiences, and join with them in their journey,” says Rusova. “It allows the people we film to truly open up and tell their story. Photos can leave a lot of things out, or at least leave space for interpretation. Video is much better for showing the whole picture.”
In recent years, Russia has seen a rise in platforms giving a voice to the new generation of Russia’s LGBTQ+ youth, including O-zine and Russian Queer Revolution. Digital tools and social media have been key to bringing the community together and, hopefully, making it a recognisable power in Russian society. The real pioneers behind this trend, however, are the queer people who are not afraid to be out, proud, and open.
“The current generation is definitely more open than all of the generations that came before us”, says Rusova. “What matters most is the fact that openly queer people exist in Russia, and everyday there are more and more of us.”