Uzbekistan’s teenagers answer: what would you wear if no one was to judge you?

24 September 2021

Uzbekistani photographer Kamila Rustambekova presented seven young models with a single question: How would you like to dress, if there were no societal taboos? The question provided the starting point of her photo project, If There Were No Society, which looks at Tashkent’s youth and the social pressures they face.

Each portrait is taken against a background of the models’ choice. Furthermore, each model is given carte balance to select their look. Rustambekova inscribes the images with quotes from their shoot that answer what the models feel most comfortable wearing. “I would walk around naked simply because it’s comfortable — not because I’m trying to provoke or upset anyone,” says one model who opts for nudity. Another covers their body in zebra stripes, while a third subject opts for a full suit. One experiments with makeup and a brazen, grunge outfit choice, writing “I would wear the wildest, punkiest make-up or deep red eyeshadow, and the strangest outfits imaginable.” Meanwhile, one of he models chooses to wear traditional Uzbek clothing.

A celebration of diversity and self-expression, each of the portraits has a unique feel and aesthetic. Yet, all of the shots share the penetrative gaze of the models, who look into the camera defiantly.

“This project is a study of social limitations,” Rustambekova told The Calvert Journal. “Our society is dominated by religion and a conservative mentality, so looking the way you feel most comfortable can actually make you a target for violence. For just a few hours, the seven subjects of my story had the chance to appear the way they truly desire, within the walls of a place where they feel safe.”

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