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Tereza Zelenkova
Photography Tereza Zelenkova

The women shaping photography in the ‘new east’

Meet five of the female talents breaking ground in the former Soviet states through their portraits of youth, landscape and the everyday

While hugely diverse, the post-communist countries of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union share something of a collective identity: defined not only by a shared past but also by a common language in contemporary culture. With its relatively recent transformation in ideology, lifestyle and national identity, the “new east” (as we might call this vast region encompassing Russia, Central Asia, eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Baltic states) is the source of a unique aesthetic. In art, film, architecture and photography, this is about capturing the collision of old and new, and finding inspiration both in collective memory and the quest for a new place in the world – with an increasing number of women leading the way. With camera in hand, they are reclaiming their gaze from a conservative, male-dominated society. The women photographers of the new east are giving voice to a new generation of girls, exposing stories that would otherwise remain unseen, exploring gender roles and sexuality, myths and archetypes, the body, landscape and the urban environment. Below, in association with The Calvert Journal, we explore five of the most exciting names that are doing just that.


Born and raised in Moscow, Masha Demianova got her first camera at 14. Now aged 26, she is a pioneering Russian photographer with a strong cinematic vision that focuses on the female gaze. She started out as a fashion photographer elevating trivial model tests to a state of art, and now works more on personal projects, including intimate portraits of friends, and studies of cities and their landscapes.


Moscow-based photographer Sonya Kydeeva is fascinated by youth and subculture in contemporary Russia – with her main subjects being Russian boys. Capturing their controversial masculinity and quest for identity, she is interested in the brief moment of formation; fragile and hardly visible processes occurring during one’s coming of age. “I do my projects in Russia because my inspiration is here,” she says. “Everything is important: language, history and culture, my vision of space and people in it.”


Ukrainian photographer Anastasiya Lazurenko cites Robert Mapplethorpe as her main inspiration, and the female body and identity as her main creative interest. Her book Pearly Gates is a collection of female portraits taken with a Polaroid camera in a quest to understand the personality and sexuality of her muses. Lazurenko considers battling stereotypes and unrealistic standards of female body as a main aim after one of her muses Valeria Koshkina died of anorexia in 2012.


The work of Slovak photographer Lucia Nimcova spans a diverse range of subjects and locations – from a visual essay on Eastern European femininity and a study of banned Slovak films of the 1980s to, most recently, an experimental folk opera drawn from material gathered in western Ukraine in 2014. Her series Instant Women explores the changing societies of central and eastern Europe through mundane everyday stories of middle and lower-class women’s lives. She is particularly interested in the way women’s dreams, plans and desires contradict the reality they live in.


Czech photographer and Royal College of Art graduate Tereza Zelenkova principally shoots in her signature black and white. Her series are often based on ephemeral relationships between the individual images and the narrative she creates using symbols and archetypes around her. Recently, Zelenkova was featured in The Photographer’s Gallery Fresh Faced + Wild Eyed, an annual exhibition for emerging talent, and has self-published several books on her work.

See the full list of the best female photographers from the region at The Calvert Journal, a guide to the new east