The work of Ukrainian photographer Kristina Podobed might make you blush. Even if your stance on bodies, nakedness and sexuality in photography is free-spirited enough, her photos are there to catch you off-guard, to push you to the boundaries where intimacy and vulgarity suddenly merge to create a rough and honest image. It is the photographers walking that fine line who end up challenging society’s moral status quo – and it’s those photographers that we need the most today.
Podobed started her photographic career in 2011, mainly documenting herself and her female friends. Photography for her has become a way to overcome the shyness and discomfort she felt about her own body, and to question all the social taboos which exist around nakedness. At the same time, her photos are not only about the body – they are also about female identity in our image-driven universe. Almost every girl or woman can remember being taught to look nice, to behave appropriately, to occupy less space, and Podobed is striving to dismantle these limitations. Her portrayal of girlhood is raw and honest, the opposite of glamorous and yet incredibly beautiful, of boundaries intimate but never shy, and possesses a sharp sense of humour.
Today we still encounter a great deal of censorship towards female bodies in art, fashion and media, and even in our day-to-day existence through social media platforms which shame imperfections and stigmatise female nipples. The struggle against it – which Podobed, who is frequently banned from Facebook her work, is a part of – is the struggle for the ownership of the body. At the same time, being from Ukraine, Podobed helps to dismantle the dehumanising myth of the eastern European woman as a shallow doll which is still widespread in the world. She proves that beauty comes with personality, and also with tan-lines and imperfections, and freedom comes with mud and bruises – but we like it that way.
Below, we speak to Podobed about social media censorship, prejudice, sisterhood and accepting your body.
“I just think there aren’t any girls who are not beautiful” – Kristina Podobed
In your work you often deal with the body, nakedness and female sexuality. Has your photography practice changed you and the way you look at these things over the years?
Kristina Podobed: I used to photograph myself and my friends, and I’m still doing the same – but a lot has changed in terms of the way I look at the the body and myself. Even a couple of years ago I was very shy about my body, I used to feel very uncomfortable if I wore something open, like a slip top, not to mention not wearing a bra. I couldn’t look at the naked body without feeling ashamed, I felt extremely embarrassed, although I couldn’t even understand why I was feeling this way. Looking at a photo of a naked girl I couldn’t help but judge her. But photography helped me to overcome these feelings, and now my perspective and my eyes are truly open. I am very happy that now I understand that there is nothing shameful about the naked body and people shouldn’t react negatively to it. I hope we’ll get to the point when nakedness will be more accepted in culture, and I’m trying to help this process at least a bit with my photography.
Your work is mainly focused on women, what’s at the heart of this interest?
Kristina Podobed: I’ve always had my girlfriends around me, and they have become my main subject. Girls always have something to say in the photos. I’ve never been really interested in male models, I don’t find them beautiful. (laughs) I don’t know. I just think there aren’t any girls who are not beautiful.
What would you like to show in the women you photograph?
Kristina Podobed: Nothing special – nothing and everything.
In your work, do you encounter a lot of limits and boundaries when it comes to the representation of female body and sexuality?
Kristina Podobed: I find it very strange that in the contemporary world, Facebook and Instagram ban photos which depict the female body in a safe and artistic manner. It makes me very sad, because we live in the 21st century. I can’t really comprehend why this censorship exists, and why breasts are supposed to be offensive. Or let’s take an example of banning a photo of a statue because it has a penis – this is absolute nonsense. I guess my main way to protest all that is to keep taking photos.
You’re from Ukraine – were you influenced by the place where you grew up and its youth culture?
Kristina Podobed: I don’t think it influenced me that much. I love Ukraine, it’s beautiful here, and the atmosphere is great, bit there is not much to do.
You recently set up a creative collective, Join the Cool, with fellow Ukrainian photographers Mishka Bochkarev and Genia Volkov. What are your aims?
Kristina Podobed: To start with, the idea of Join the Cool was like an art agency which would unite artists, musicians and other creatives from the local scene. We are still working on it. The point is to give all the participants a chance to work together on projects in different genres. The title is a lighthearted invitation which, for us, reflects the essence of pop culture, and our reaction to the controversial, surrounding environment, both its beauty and depth and its absurdity and injustice.
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