Ekaterina Zakharova: an astonishing photographer working under intense pressure - Spotlight - MyGayToronto
an astonishing photographer working under intense pressure
By DREW Rowsome 20 March 2018
The photographs of Ekaterina Zakharova are a powerful sensual exploration of the male form and its relation to other men, sexuality, gender and the world. They are also not as well known or readily available as such extraordinarily individual works of art should be. That is partially because of the intense eroticism and NSFW nudity. But it is also for reasons that Zakharova explained long after MyGayToronto.com and MGT had become enamoured and aroused by her work, and requested an interview to bring her art to the attention of our readers. Zakharova is far braver, sexually philosophical, and more fearless than even that heartstopping first viewing of her intense work reveals.
Drew Rowsome: How did you become interested in photography? And why did you choose it as your art form of expression?
Ekaterina Zakharova: I always admired beauty - not necessarily in terms of well known and accepted standards but rather the beauty of an object. A person is an object of a beauty when I look through a camera, just as much as any natural event. When I was a kid, I spent hours looking at the bark of a tree, sand in a clock or skin texture. Everything is a combination of opposites - right doesn't exist without wrong; chaos is impossible without an order - everything is connected and therefore everything has a right to exist. This is the magic of photography - that one can catch the moment of a connection and keep it for eternity. I can't draw so photography became my only form of expression and, in many cases, the only way to communicate.
There is an astonishing breadth to your work from wedding photos to BDSM erotic. Are you following your muse? Do you do commercial work as well as your own artistic pursuits?
The reality of living in Russia imposes some limits on what I can express as a photographer and even more limits for me to provide for myself while doing what I love. It may seem unpatriotic but, unfortunately, this is the reality. I love my country and I believe the most amazing people live in this part of the world. However, the recently introduced and enforced anti-homosexuality regulations trapped my creativity and killed the freedom to truly create the art I envision before stepping into a studio. I am not scared nor I dare to call myself brave, but the only thing I know for sure: every model invited to the studio is my responsibility, their security is my responsibility and I can't ask them to take on the risk of harassment or possible prosecution just so that I can create a truly deep piece I dream of. Thus, I am doing my best to create an alternative art without disclosing the people behind it. The emotion, struggle and reality of every photograph is still a very true image of my vision.
I also can't take the risk to host an exhibition in Russia or trying to put my photographs up for sale due to the political reality in Russia even though, I believe that many would appreciate my work. I do get death threats and hate letters after every photograph is posted on social media. And that's why the only way for me to survive and pay the bills is to be a commercial photographer for occasions like weddings and my full time employment as motion designer with the only opposition channel in Russia. It breaks my heart but photography becomes more like a hobby holding my passion hostage in today's Russia.
You capture both male and female genders with equal beauty. Is there a difference in how you approach them?
Ironically, I am an openly gay woman who captures only nude men. I have just a few pieces of female nude beauty. Maybe because I always felt that it is unfair to have an ocean of female-centric art and almost no male nude masterpieces. I am sure that male body is no less beautiful to be before a camera.
Your models are of many varied body types and personalities. Does their look inspire a photograph or do you search out a model that fits your vision? What do you look for in a model?
All my ideas change at the moment I see a model. Every one of them is unique and presented to me during the shoot in a new light I might not have imagined before. Models open their souls in front of a camera changing the concept of every piece and definitely making it much more real to those looking at it later.
There is a lot of play with gender roles and power dynamics. Is that a reflection of your personal concerns or an artistic choice?
In addition to what I mentioned before, photography is my form of therapy. I was violated before and I have seen violence, so the camera releases my demons and clears me of them every time I lift it to make a shot.
How do you interact with your models to let them let go of their inhibitions and be so revealing?
It is about a connection. A photographer has to be empathetic to feel a model's struggle and to inspire its revelation in front of a camera. I always try to improve my instincts to be at the same level as a model, to be able to catch a shy move and turn it into a wave of expression. It is a very intimate moment since every second in the studio can be relived only through those pictures. For some of my models, a long, deeply philosophical discussion about the value of a session sets the mood, for others silence is the king and simple instructions help a lot. It is truly different for everyone and it is different for me in every session.
When do you feel that you have achieved what you want from a session?
The moment always comes as a surprise. Here I am in the moment, everything is electric from the highest voltage, model is shaking from exhaustion, I feel the weight of a camera with every second passing, and the only signal is my head is more, more, more. I need to run, be fast, adjust some tiny details in my view, yell at the model to focus and then . . . boom. In my head it is like someone just turned the lights off. Done. Finale. Everyone collapses.
Why do you think the mainstream (with Facebook being a prime example) is so negative towards depictions of sexuality and nudity?
I don't have any research proving my statement but I am sure that female nudity is usually criticized by women, while male nudity is considered unacceptable by both men and women. Usually. It was always surprising to me. Maybe the reason is simple: male genitalia looks more fragile than the female which is hidden deep inside a body. In reality, I simply don't know.
What effect do you hope your photographs have on an audience? Is it satisfying for you to arouse a viewer? Make them uncomfortable?
It is a challenge. Can I create a photograph worth looking at to experience the desire and the greatest pleasure of all?
What makes a photo erotic?
Every picture is an expression of a viewer's emotion, the level of intimacy he/she has with a piece while looking at it. For someone, it is an aroused penis, for others it is an intimate moment of truth in feeling wanted and loved. Erotica is everywhere and for me the best visualization is a thread of a water on a tongue barely touching a nipple. It is as beautiful as it is erotic, don't you think? Everything is connected.
What makes a photo a work of art?
If you ever find out, please let me know.
What would your dream photo shoot be?
I am dreaming of an underwater photo shoot, if that's what you mean. Honestly though, my biggest dream is to have the freedom to express myself, to let my models show their faces and be proud of who they are. Especially, because I have someone special by my side who supports me every step of the way and inspires me to do more, I want to have the right to be open, honest and live my life without looking over my shoulder every time I post a picture on social media.
What is the most important thing you have learned from creating your art?
I have to work more. And more. And more.
You have had censorship problems which explains why your work appears on so many different and scattered sites. Is there anywhere our readers can see a collection of your works? Purchase your work? Are there plans for books, exhibits or calendars outside of Russia?
Yes, I am regularly banned from Facebook from three days to three months. But looking on the bright side, it saves me a lot of time to do something more meaningful than spending that time on social media. I have some of my work atzakharova.deviantart.com - if interested, a one can buy it directly from the site. Also, I have been honored to display some of my pieces in the Dylan Rossergalleries among a crowd of brilliant photographers. More details are atgallerymale.com