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Independence Day Parade - Russia

Your early beginnings, amidst exile and asylum, all started with a bang. Was it fortunate or unfortunate to have those experiences? Laissez Faire:

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, as they say. All I’ve always wanted to do as a writer and artist is to express myself in the most radical and honest way. And I was prepared to pay the price. Looking back, I can say that nothing ever fell from the sky and I had to fight for acceptance and my very existence in a totally conservative and oppressive environment. When I came out publicly and started publishing my writings back in the early 90’s, my Russian critics were outraged and labelled me a pervert and psycho, a danger to society, and openly called for my prosecution, imprisonment and even forced psychiatric treatment – something that was commonly used against dissidents in the Soviet times. If I paid much attention to those threats and insults, or if I was praised from my early age, I wouldn’t have accomplished much in life. And I’m happy to say that my example and struggle inspired others in my country and other places to speak out and stand up for their rights and freedoms. Slava:

How were you influenced in your early surroundings that made you push the boundaries of censorship in communist Russia? Laissez Faire:

I belong to the last generation that grew up under Communism, but it’s fair to say that I’m a product of Gorbachev’s Perestroika, which brought us an explosion of previously banned books, movies, art, and music. Undoubtedly, it was the most exciting and euphoric time in recent Russian history and I happened to be in the midst of it when I ran away from my dysfunctional family and moved to Moscow at the age 14. Needless to say, I have slight nostalgia about my Communist childhood, the uniforms we had to wear and all those mysterious rituals we performed in front of portraits of Lenin and other Communist leaders. In retrospect, I think of it as a sort of performance art that we were forced into – it was highly symbolic and idealistic. Perhaps that’s where my attraction to uniforms and rituals of all sorts comes from. And maybe that’s why my Russian pictures are a little more sentimental than the rest of my work. Slava:

Cadets dressing up

Dima & Lenin

I’m trying to figure out how photography became a part of your creative arsenal? Being threatened with imprisonment and fighting for political asylum, did you also squeeze in a few master-classes in photography along the way? Laissez Faire:

My art is a continuation of my writings and I remain a poet in everything I do. I started doing photography at the same time as writing poetry – as a teenager. I had a primitive darkroom set up in our bathroom, where I was printing my first pictures – mostly portraits of friends and underground rock stars. When I moved to Moscow, I became involved in the unofficial art scene, although I was mostly known as a hooligan poet and journalist, and one of few open queers in a country of 150 million people. When I found myself as a 21-year-old political exile in New York, I hardly spoke any English. I wanted to jump over the language barrier and started focusing more on my visual work. I was fortunate to work with great artists and photographers, like Bruce LaBruce, Terry Richardson and Attila Richard Lukacs. This amazing experience gave me enough confidence to move forward and eventually I started publishing and exhibiting my work. Ever since, photography remains my main language and passion. Slava:

LAISSEZ FAIRE LONDON  

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