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Dima Komarov
Photography Dima Komarov

Photographing the free-spirited youth of a small town in Belarus

Dima Komarov shares portraits from the Eastern European city of Brest

Portraiture has always been one of photography’s most powerful creative tools. Portraiture can be visceral, personal, intimate — but it also creates empathy, much-needed in today’s fractured world. A lot of emerging photographers worldwide start from documenting their friends and their community. Easily shared online, these visuals increase the diversity of faces and experiences we see, while also proving that there are plenty of things we share which go beyond geographies and borders. The work of a 21-year-old photographer Dima Komarov is one of these cases: his documentation of youth from Russia and Eastern Europe is free-spirited, luminous, and very relatable.

Based in St Petersburg, Komarov started doing photography in 2015 and is essentially self-taught. The sincerity and playfulness of his documentation of Gen Z Russians have attracted the attention of the international photography community: this year Dima is included in FOAM magazine’s Talent issue and the accompanying exhibitions in Amsterdam, New York, London, and Frankfurt. It shows that artist don’t have to have fancy equipment or expensive education – that sometimes passion, intuition, and a good eye are enough. 

Komarov’s work gives an insight into the real life of the emerging generation in Russia and Eastern Europe – their looks and their style, places where they live, their dreams and aspirations.  It’s not only about big cities, but also places which have hardly ever before appeared on the global cultural map, like the town of Brest in Belarus.

The photographer travelled to Brest in October 2018 to visit a friend. Brest is located in Belarus, very close the border with Poland. “It is very small and cosy, looks like a typical Eastern European provincial town. It’s not very well known, but one of the key landmarks is the 19th century Brest Fortress, which is significant in the history of the Second World War,” Dima explains. 

With just under 350,000 inhabitants, Brest sits at the edge of the EU and bears traces of the complicated Soviet past, as well as the current repressive politics of the Belarus government.

“There is not much to do in Brest for young people, there are hardly any cultural events, and if there are any, they’re self-organised, underground, and often put up in the secret. In Belarus, the censorship of culture is harsh. Even in the capital city, Minsk, music gigs sometimes get cancelled if the lyrics mention something forbidden or deemed inappropriate,” Dima says. “Friends and people I photographed also told me how undercover police show up at electronic music nights and search everyone who seems suspicious to them. The legislation concerning recreational drugs is very strict, carrying even a small amount could mean a 10-year prison sentence.”

These politics that the youth in Belarus live under, however, don’t come through directly in Komarov’s photographs. His “Brest” series is deeper than that, more like a diary produced in collaboration with his subjects: their bedrooms and small details of the interior, the city streets and parks, the imposing Soviet memorials juxtaposed with portraits of the generation born after the Soviet Union collapsed. It’s evident that for him, photography is a natural way of getting to know people and places.

“I love the relaxed moments when you’re just walking around, hanging out, having fun, and spending time together. And I also document it. It’s candid and simple and naive, and no one is giving instructions or forcing anything. I love faces, they’re all different and every single one is interesting on its own terms. I also like positioning people in the frame; interacting with them and the setting.”

However candid, Komarov’s photography looks incredibly relevant in the contemporary visual context. People in his photographs are just small-town youngsters, but they look cool, self-possessed, honest, and relatable. They are, in a way, just like you reading this, and their experiences are just as beautiful and important.  

When it comes to his recent success, Komarov remains unfazed and humble. “I don’t really do anything extraordinary. For me, photography is a very natural process. My goal is that every time I take a picture, I look at and know that this is it, this is the most we can do – both the model and I. And then I stop and I’m happy with the result,” he says. “I’m not sure what the future holds, but I definitely know that I’ll keep doing photography and will never quit.”

Komarov’s work will be shown next at New York’s Red Hook Labs as part of the Foam Talent photography exhibition, from 22 March – 10 April 2019