“I look at young people, Generation Z, who knows the Soviet Union only from stories and books: they were shaped by another time; they have a different way of thinking,” said Alexander Veryovkin, a St. Petersburg-based photographer. Born shortly before the breakup of the USSR, he is, like many of his generation, intrigued by visual cues or situations that highlight the divide between the Soviet and post-Soviet eras.
Russia is a photographer’s playground, especially when it comes to comparing late twentieth-century monuments and ultra-connected youth that is open to the world and closely engaged with social networks, as evidenced by recent events. Massively posted on TikTok, the protests against the arrest of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny have galvanized a segment of Russian youth whom the authorities have tried to muzzle through violent arrests, by censoring content deemed “illegal” on social networks, or by threatening student protesters with expulsion from the university.
A new wave of photographers is keen to bear witness to the changes, that drive and motivate millennials and Generation Z. Blind has picked three of these photographers: three ways of trying to paint a portrait of Russian youth.
Alexander Veryovkin, a Look at History
“I was born in 1987, so I got a little hooked on the Soviet reality… And although I remember little, I feel that that era left a mark on me,” admits Alexander Veryovkin, author of the powerful series Gazing at the Post-Soviet.
This graduate in astronomy started out by occasionally shooting portraits of friends on an informal basis. Next he would photograph young passersby in the streets of St. Petersburg, Volgograd, Murmansk, or Moscow. As he continued this work, he was struck by the contrast between Generation Z and the public space in which she lives.
“I came to the conclusion that visually I am attracted by the dissonance between the appearance of modern young people in Russia, who grew up after the collapse of the USSR, and the space in which they now live—still ideologized and laden with symbolism that harks back to the past,” he analyzes.
Sometimes, the long-awaited clash has been overtaken by the socioeconomic reality of present-day Russia. “I witnessed a scene at an intersection the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the late 90s in Russia. A guy… was offering to clean windshields. Almost everyone turned him down. It was so strange that I just stood there and watched for a while. The weather was nasty, the guy was very miserable… When he left the street, I photographed him in front of the Worker and Kolkhoz Woman monument.” The monument celebrates the working class and the peasantry.
Yana Pirozhok, an Introspection
To earn a living, the young Yana Pirozhok makes corporate portraits in St. Petersburg. Searching for a creative outlet, delving into her childhood and her relationship with her father, she decided to return to her native Urals. Her moving series My Dad is a School Bus Driver focuses on the schoolchildren in this rural area, whom she met by following her father, whose school bus services three small villages.
“Every morning for a week, my dad would wake me up at 6 in the morning. I would take three cameras with me—a digital one and two film cameras, and we would go to pick up the children. While we were driving, they chatted, were silent, joked, or argued,” recalls the photographer.
Her status as the daughter of the bus driver facilitated contact, and a mutual curiosity and tenderness quickly developed. The children wondered why a young woman from a city as big as St. Petersburg was interested in them. During their commute, some would ask her about photography. What is photography? And where does one go to study it? And how does film photography work?
Yana Pirozhok not only reconnected with her father, but also deconstructed her own biases. “Having experienced life in the countryside, I had formed a certain outlook on rural life. I looked at the village as something that needed to be corrected, supplemented, or changed; and in the schoolchildren, I looked for evidence of my own painful experience.”
However, as she talked to them, the photographer realized how different these children were, much more open and sociable. “I did not feel that they were deprived of anything. They have the Internet, YouTube, and social media. And thanks to our conversations, I was able… in a sense, to rewrite my past,” she concluded.
Mikhail Fedoseev, Ode to Party
“I just love it when people around me do cool stuff. It makes me get up from my couch and gives me the power doing my art.” Armed with his cheap compact film camera, Mikhail Fedoseev is the most sought-after Russian photographer of his generation.
Since the actress Varvara Shmykova, whom he contacted via Instagram, stepped in front of his colorful lens, he had one collaborative project after another: Harper’s Bazaar Russia, H&M, and even young Russian designers and musicians call on his raw, spontaneous, decadent, and almost random style.
“This approach to finding work has served me well ever since, and in this sense, I can say, I am part of an observable trend, unlike the dominant veteran fashion photographers contracted by agencies and magazines. I do believe we are in the century of collaboration—for creatives just to be able to get in touch within seconds and do something interesting together is amazing,” underscores someone who has always found assignments only via Instagram.
Mikhail Fedoseev’s images seem to be all from one never-ending party. This radiant girl, a cocktail in one hand, a dog in the other, is the singer Klava Koka, a star in Russia. The picture, accidental, became the cover of one of her singles. While the photographer and the singer were celebrating the end of a photoshoot at a bar, they stumbled across a little dog. “We couldn’t miss this opportunity and took a picture. Right after that, she dropped her glass and it broke. But creating a cover for this single was worth getting kicked out of the bar, I guess,” he recalls.
By Charlotte Jean
Charlotte Jean is a journalist and author. A former contributor to Beaux Arts Magazine and the founder of Darwin Nutrition, she graduated from the École du Louvre, where she majored in contemporary art.