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Work / Photography

Photographer Dima Komarov captures a sense of freedom in Russian youth culture

“I want my models to be very natural in my pictures. I want them to not be afraid of themselves.” Dima Komarov tells It’s Nice That. The St Petersburg-based young photographer has gained a cult following on his Instagram account for his inclusive, at times subversive, images of the youth in his hometown. His images (still taken on a Canon 600d which his mum bought him) are drenched in a sense of freedom, of being on the edge of something new and exciting – to put it simply, they capture what it is to be young, free and open to the possibility of anything.

Inspired initially by the free spirit of skateboarding, Dima rapidly found himself submerged in a series of music scenes – first rock, then hardcore punk and late lo-fi through which he has collected “a lot of friends who make interesting contemporary music and organise music events.” These scenes are the starting points for his portraits which focus chiefly on his group of friends in St Petersburg and occasionally models he finds on social media platform Instagram.

Dima has an innate ability to capture the unique, almost palpable energy and attitude of St Petersburg’s youth, so it may come as a surprise to learn he has been shooting for less than three years. “In the Spring of 2015 I dropped out of auto mechanic college, I just decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do” he explains. Starting out taking pictures at his friends’ gigs, Dima caught the photography bug and took a studio lighting course which he took to straight away. “At the beginning, I was just photographing my friends in their everyday clothes without any particular idea behind it,” says Dima. “Later it grew into full studio shots with a makeup artist and a hair stylist and a strong concept, what remained the same though, has been that most of my models are my good friends.” It is this closeness with his subjects emotionally and physically which lends to the sense of intimacy and ease apparent in his work – something the West might not readily associate with Russia.

“Russian youth culture is getting more and more similar to the Western one,” Dima puts forward. “But I feel that a global boom of Russian youth culture is still to come because we can still feel the pressure and prejudice of the older generation in Russia. We also live under harsh control by the government, which is not easy; the government doesn’t want to support or understand young people.”

What is the reaction to young creatives like himself in his home country, we ask? “In Russia today I can see a lot of preciously talented young people who are mostly underappreciated and underestimated in this country. I’d like to think they deserve support from the West because they’re not getting it here.”

Though Dima attests that he doesn’t put any political meaning in his work, he clearly lives by a strong set of ideas on his vision for the Russia of the future: “I wish I lived in a free world without prejudice,” he muses. “But a friend told me that’s a Utopia… I hate when people in Russia are being judged for their looks, race, gender, sexual orientation and just how they identify. Being yourself, being natural is the best way to live life happily.”

Dima Komarov’s work is on display as part of the Post-Soviet Visions: Image and Identity in the new Eastern Europe exhibition at Calvert 22.

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