Recently the Russian government passed a law that stigmatizes gay people and bans giving children any information about homosexuality. It pretty much means that if gay men and women are not recognized and one is not allowed to even talk about homosexuality, the whole concept of it is being dismissed as non-existent. With this law Russia strives to promote its values over western liberalism, which is regarded upon by the Kremlin and the Russian orthodox church as corrupting for the Russian youth and contributing to protest against the current Russian leader.
In the past years we have witnessed how this law, which was a local law first, has acted and how it influenced the lives of not only those who actively spoke up against it, but also of those who are in fact homosexual and want nothing more than just live their life as part of the bigger society. Just like you and me. Fear has been installed and forces people to live their lives hidden or simply try to ignore their true nature. But where there is desperation there is also always a glimmer of hope. Hope that one way or the other, things will eventually turn better.
Last year we published an editorial with an interview with Russian photographer Kathrina Zakharova, that we were given by our colleagues from fa4m. Kathrina is a photographer who specializes in working with nude men, using harshly-lit in often minimalist close up croppings. In her work, Kate strives to meld the human passions with fine art sensibilities in her work, endeavoring to tell a story that reaches the viewer in an emotional way. Now all this is not exactly unique, as there are many more photographers who try to do this. But, as mentioned above, Kathrina is living and working in Moscow, which adds a whole new level of interest to her work. When asked about her motivation and inspiration, Kathrina said: “Why I do what I do, is a question I never know how to answer. Truly, I have no idea. Maybe the reason is, in part, because in Russia, very few photographers work with the naked male. And this is really unfair. I believe the male body is beautiful, strong and gentle at the same time. For me the male body is full of inspiration. Each part, every part, of it. I adore men’s hands, clavicles, neck, chest, abdominals, bottoms. It is awesome to see the growing penis, how it fills with power, and how delicate I need to be to shoot it. And I love shooting two boys together at the same time – it is a double portion of tenderness and handsomeness and strength too. Of course, in Russia, it is a bring problem, you know. My country prefers to hate, and to be afraid of gay love. Hatred of man loving man, unfortunately, is commonplace still even in large cities and in the capital too. As a female photographer, I often receive threats and hate mail too every time I publish my photographs on the web. I so appreciate, and am grateful too, for the braveness of my models. And I hope that I will not be deterred, I hope that I will not stop. And I wait for the day when this situation will change. And maybe that is the answer, that is why I shoot men.” Not only is Kathrina Zakharova a very talented photographer, she is also a very brave human being. And obviously strong in her saddle when it comes to defending her work and what it stands for. (see also BeautifulMag/Fine Art 4 Men: Kathrina Zakharova)
Kathrina, how did you become such a specialist and expert when it comes to male physique photography?
Kate: Honestly, I do not consider myself such a specialist or even an expert when it comes to male physique photography. But for me it seems absolutely natural when a being of an opposite sex shows an interest in exploring, discovering the unknown – those very things you actually don’t possess (smiling). A man’s body. Actually, I’m ensured that any human body — both man’s and woman’s — is worth discovering. It has its own special beauty and exudes its own sexuality. But… I just easier get in touch with boys rather than girls.
Living in Russia today, is it difficult to find models who want to pose for your art?
Kate: Oh yeah, it’s kind of a challenge. But you know what, I do not think that it is only a Russian problem. There are many other countries where men are afraid of homosexuality accusations. In Russia, such a large and beautiful country, with such a rich history and cultural heritage, to me the present and the future of my models looks very frightening. Talking about simple usual nude pictures, it’s hard sometimes to find guys who agree to be published in gay-themed editions, but what is even more challenging is to find guys who can show their faces in a edgy m + m couple shooting, because it automatically means lifetime tagging such as “I'm gay, beat me, fire me from my work, kick me out off my rental apartment, blame me for propaganda, etc”. Maybe that's why it is safer to shoot parts of the body, contours, lines, etc., hiding the whole person. Huh, the government turned me into a master of conspiracy! (smiling).
Russia recently approved the law that speaks against homosexual propaganda. Does this political regime in any way interfere in your work?
Kate: Some time ago I was honestly trying to believe in the good motives of our officials - to protect children from the information they have to grow themselves to. To learn all that at an older age. But in this case it would be more correct to protect children from all forms of sexuality - both hetero and homo. It would be logical, right? But only same-sex relationship propaganda resulted to be banned. So that means homosexuality is now so disgusting in Russia that it is really necessary to protect children from it? That's what scares me the most: homosexuality treated wrong – like something abnormal – on state and governmental level.
Showing its total impotence in social policy matters, the government uses a red herring – it appeals to basic instincts. These are the roots of the laws calling to protect children from everything, because children are the dearest things that we have. “Sexual minorities - a threat to children”, sais the Russian State Duma. No matter that your grandmother's pension is lower than the minimum wage, although she has worked for all her life for the good of her country. No, that’s not important. But it is important that a homosexual may approach your child (there are so many gays and apparently they are all pedophiles) and be sure that gay guy will do something awful to him. But at the same time we forget, we hide information about how many children are affected by violence in their own holes or live in inappropriate conditions in orphanages. I believe that homosexuality is what every person receives at birth, like blue eyes or a mole on an upper lip. So what will happen to children who are born homosexual and have already realized their homosexuality? Now they are evil, the deviation from the norm, they are under a legal ban! Will they be able to find the power to accept themselves? Not to break down? To safe themselves from the system?
What does this new law actually means?
Kate: Now many people in Russia believe they were granted with carte blanche. You can use violence against any people, justifying it with the direct encourage of their own state policy – homosexuality propaganda is strictly forbidden!!! "I beat him - he was gay, I did it in the name of good!" Now anyone can be beaten or even killed. When the state actively provokes its citizens to hate other citizens – it means that this state is deeply sick.
So Kate, to summarize all this, how is it to live in Russia these days?
Kate: I really love photography, I love to work with nude models. But it's very frustrating, very gloomy, that, being a photographer, it’s not you who decides what you can show to your audience. You’re hesitating weather they consider your works a violation of the law or not, even if you have a picture of two kissing people, human beings, but they are just of the same sex.
Kathrina Zakharova is an artist with a vision and an opinion. Her life is not an easy one, but she has no choice but to live it and does it with her head held high. Though things might not look so positive right now, Kate does believe that with the right attitude things can change for the better. Eventually. And if more people saddle up and ride the path of justice, it will. –BM-
Special thanks to Alaxandra Ushakova (editing) and Dmitry Sae-Lao Fedotov (translation).
KATHERINA ZAKHAROVA | BEAUTIFULMAG