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Marta (@_marta_maa) & Vitalija (@njeprawda) at Palace SquarePhotography Nick Gavrilov, creative direction Roman Gunt

Photographing young Russian couples making out to protest anti-LGBTQ laws

In support of queer youth in Chechnya, this defiant photo series is shot in front of historical Russian landmarks

“If we want a better future for the new generations we need to stop being indifferent to what’s happening in our country,” says Saint Petersburg-based creative director Roman Gunt. The young creative is a vocal member of the emerging LGBTQ+ creative scene in Russia, currently involved both in underground fashion collective, Generation Z, and one of the biggest Russian queer raves, ГРАНЬ (‘Grahn’). This new generation of queer Russians know that fighting for one’s rights can go beyond day-to-day life choices, and extend into their creative work too. 

Coming of age in the era of ‘gay propaganda law’ – put in place in 2013 to eradicate the representation of LGBTQ+ people from the media, culture, and public space – this underrepresented group is no stranger to conservatism, but is intent on thriving regardless. Sticking a middle finger up at this antiquated system, Gunt has collaborated with photographer Nick Gavrilov on a photo series that debuts exclusively on Dazed – an ode to the new generation of Russians who believe in equality and love above the oppressive politics.

Together with Gavrilov, Roman scouted nine couples, both queer and straight, who kissed in front of state institutions, cultural landmarks, and more mundane typical Russian backdrops, like the metro carriage. Much like a guidebook of Russia, the photographs become subversive postcards of radical love. “This project is primarily a story of each couple, an invitation to their personal life. The LGBTQ+ community is now growing and becoming stronger in Russia, and the most important thing is to support them,” says the photographer. “We wanted to channel positive energy that would affect the future generations.”

“We decided to shoot this project after the news of prosecution and police torture of LGBTQ+ community in Chechnya. I was shocked by the cruelty and primitiveness of it all – it’s a crime against humanity,” adds Gunt. “No matter how cruel Russia may be at times, there’s a limit on what we can take and we’ve reached it. My generation is no longer able to look at the impunity of officials and their inaction against the LGBTQ+ community in Russia. It’s time to make our own history”.

Bringing an expression of love which is persecuted by society to the public spaces was a significant part of the project for both creatives. “I chose the most popular tourist spots not only for the backdrop of the photographs, but also to look at the reaction of the public. It was difficult for same-sex couples because we have no tolerance for same-sex relationships in Russia. We were surrounded by unfriendly glances, but surprisingly, no one approached or said anything to us,” Gunt says. He continues, sharing how shooting the series almost got them arrested. “We were shooting in front of the building of The State Duma, which in 2013 passed the gay propaganda law, and we almost got arrested. Two police cars suddenly drove up to us and a few policemen started enquiring about what we are doing here. They told us to stop what we were doing otherwise they’d arrest us.”

“My generation is no longer able to look at the impunity of officials and their inaction against the LGBTQ+ community in Russia. It’s time to make our own history” – Roman Gunt 

For Gavrilov, the feeling of supporting those who are underrepresented was also important. “Making this project was a necessity, our community needed it – each portrait is about the struggle against inequality in Russia,” he explains. “There are same-sex couples and heterosexual couples, our allies and friends who, like us, are not indifferent to the atrocities that are happening to the LGBTQ+ community in Chechnya.”

Despite an ongoing crackdown on internet freedom and persecution of LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya, the queer underground scene is continuing to blossom, with a new wave of art and photography projects, the burgeoning queer rave scene, and self-funded initiatives like O-zine taking over in publishing. “I’m so proud to be part of this movement,” Gunt concludes. “We need a revolution to show the Russian government that our generation is not going to put up with the abhorrent events that are happening in Chechnya with our sisters and brothers. Who is going to do anything about it if not us?”