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Slava Mogutin, “John Tree Hugger”, LA (2019)
Slava Mogutin, “John Tree Hugger”, LA (2019), Analog Human Studies (2023)© Slava Mogutin

Slava Mogutin’s ‘pansexual’ exploration of the queer body

Analog Human Studies is the new photo book and exhibition featuring transgressive portraits of ‘rebels, outcasts and misfits’

It’s easy to oversimplify the idea of intimacy in queer photography; to assume that for something to be intimate, there needs to be an explicitly sexual edge to the work. In Analog Human Studies, the latest photo book and accompanying exhibition by Slava Mogutin – spanning the first two decades of his work – the photographer, poet and activist is opening the door to a wider, more inclusive definition of the term.

When describing the relationship that the photos in Analog Human Studies has with intimacy, Mogutin says that while the work is “perhaps less sexually explicit” than some of what’s come before it, the imagery is more “pansexual and intergenerational”. He goes on to say that this collection is an “exploration of transgressive and radical expressions of human nature and sexuality, marginal subcultures and fetishes”.

The expressions of sexuality that define much of Analog offer a complex, kaleidoscopic view of the queer body, refusing to create a single, uniform idea of what that might look like. From the heavily tattooed “Yves, Brooklyn” (2022), to the pastoral serenity imbued in “Maxima, NYC” (2018), it’s clear that Mogutin’s photography aims to create a space where each subject has the freedom to embody their own relationship to queerness. The artist himself makes this clear, saying, “Every portrait is a collaboration based on trust, compassion and mutual respect.”

There’s a tenderness to the relationship between Mogutin and his subjects, something that’s informed by a loss that he’s still processing through Analog Human Studies. Mogutin describes this volume – the first in a series; he’s already working on volumes two and three – “two former lovers who committed suicide, and a friend in Buenos Aires who died of brain cancer.” According to Mogutin, grappling with these losses fundamentally changed Analog Human Studies, turning it into “a reflection on our mortality and the ephemeral nature of life and love.”

The ephemera of life, and the question of what we leave behind – for Mogutin, “all we leave behind is the work and memories we create” – walks hand in hand with the relationship that his photographs have with queer history. The stark still life of “Closer to the Knives’ is a direct reference to David Wojnarowicz (described by Mogutin as being one of his heroes), and images of artists like Ron Athey are vital in the ways in which Analog pays “tribute to queer elders, the generation that came before.” These multiple decades of beautifully unassuming images create not only an intergenerational conversation, but it also captures contemporary queerness, those that Mogutin calls the heroes of his work: “rebels, outcasts and misfits who I’m fortunate to call my friends.”

Exiled from Russia for his outspoken queer art and activism, Mogutin calls it “disheartening” to see his work censored on social media in the west “just as much” as he was being censored in post-communist Russia. The abiding spectre of censorship – made even more frighteningly real by the homophobia and transphobia of the culture wars – mean that Mogutin’s work will always have a political edge to it. With his subjects coming from all over the world – London to New York, Berlin to Buenos Aries – Analog Human Studies captures a portrait of queerness that refuses uniformity; by covering decades of work, this collection shows not only the development in Mogutin’s own work, but the changes in how queerness looks, and what it means to be queer as the world has changed.

Sadly, Mogutin says that “hypocrisy, bigotry, and homophobia don’t have borders or nationality.” But his work acts as a riposte to prejudice; a document on not only the resilience found in queer life, but to the importance and power of memory. Whether it’s in holding close those we’ve lost, or bridging the gap between the generation that came before us, Analog Human Studies captures the kaleidoscope of queerness in all of its love and loss, hope and healing.

Analog Human Studies by Slava Mogutin is available here.

Slava Mogutin: Analog Human Studies is on view at The Bureau of General Services – Queer Division LGBT Center, 208 West 13th Street, New York City 10011 from April 12 until June 4 2023. The opening reception is on April 12 at 6-8 PM. On April 23 at 3 PM, Mogutin will screen a project called Gay Propaganda at the Bureau.

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