Masha Demianova's twisted beauty

Meet Moscow's answer to Petra Collins as she pioneers female gaze photography in Russia

Masha Demianova's Female Gaze
Masha Demianova

Selling woman as an object of desire in order to sell her other objects of desire is a well-known mechanism of fashion only backed up by fashion photography. Luckily, the picture is changing owing to the young generation of photographers constructing new female identity. While Petra Collins shoots candy-coloured coming of age stories in American suburbs, on the other side of the Atlantics photographer Masha Demianova is pioneering female gaze photography in Moscow. Although her haunting and melancholic pictures are different to Collins’ teenage school proms, there are definitely things in common: female approach to body which comes from living in your skin and challenging beauty at its hardest – while capturing young, pretty girls. 

25-year-old Demianova was born and raised in Moscow where she works most of the time with long city breaks in New York and LA. In her free time she runs a community of young photographers from Russia and Ukraine called RYE. In Russia which is decades behind Europe in terms of feminist discourse, Demianova’s approach to femininity is pretty unconventional. However pretty the faces are, the beauty is alien and twisted, and the girls are sexless creatures from a cinematic universe which is not real but we wish it was.

Here Dazed talks to Masha about RYE, single shot narratives and gender in photography.

Dazed Digital: Do you remember when and how you started shooting? 

Masha Demianova: I bought my first Canon AE1 when I was 14 or 15 and since then I've just kept going.

DD: What are you trying to achieve in terms of effect on your viewers?

Masha Demianova: I guess I'm trying to give people the possibility to see more than what appears in a picture – not just a girl in a dress laying on the grass but also a feeling of inner substance within the frame. If I shoot with a particular idea the goal is to transmit it as honestly and purely as possible.

DD: Some of your images are really like a single shot narrative – how do you do that? Do you come up with a story in your head or is it pure instinct? 

Masha Demianova: Girls always have different identities apart from themselves, playing their parts every minute of their lives. Probably most of the time I’m trying to subconsciously keep their stories in mind.

DD: Did anything in particular influence your aesthetics and particularly how cinematic your photography is? 

Masha Demianova: I adore Vincent van de Wijngaard’s photography, I am always waiting on his next shoot. I’m not sure how it works, he’s just speaking my language. I'm always inspired by my friend and mentor Yelena Yemchuk. Also – Tim Barber, Ryan McGinley, Cass Bird and Lina Scheynius had a huge impact on my early photography. Directors also taught me about the sacral atmosphere of the narrative are Robert Bresson, Bruno Dumont, Philippe Grandrieux, Maya Deren and Jean Rollin.

DD: Tell us a bit about your work for RYE community?

Masha Demianova: RYE is a visual community of young Russian and Ukrainian photographers. The purpose of this community was to bring all the guys together and help each other. Something like Tim Barber does in New York: he helps young photographers a lot with publishing their books and organizing their exhibitions. Also one day I am planning to finally print the big album with RYE contributors pictures and stories that they shoot for us and sell it all over to help everybody to find out about these talented photographers and artists.

DD: Do you have any places you return to in your shoots?

Masha Demianova: Nature. I love to shoot in my grandma’s country house and around it. Cause I spent lots of summers there as a kid and I really know the area. I know where my favorite tree is and how the light works on every inch of grass in the forest.

DD: Would you apply the term female gaze to your work?

Masha Demianova: Well I have to. I am a female so is my gaze.

DD: What are you trying to achieve when portraying girls and how? 

Masha Demianova: Sometimes it’s a feeling sometimes it’s an idea or something I picked up from a movie I recently watched. The best shoots are always the one that you prepare. I think it should be passion during the shoot and comprehension of it before.

DD: Do you think gender matters for a photographer?

Masha Demianova: Yes, of course. Men and women do everything differently. They are different creatures.

DD: How do you find being a girl and a photographer in contemporary Russia?

Masha Demianova: I don’t know about “contemporary Russia” but for me it’s hard to do photography here 'cause it's too cold and there's never enough light.

DD: Any plans for the near future?

Masha Demianova: Keep shooting. I’m only at the beginning.

For more of Masha's work visit her site.

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