Join The Cool is a collective made up of artists Genia Volkov, Anastasiya Lazurenko, Kristina Podobed, Daria Svertilova. Gathering together twice a year, the group shoot a project which aims to uncover the “hidden gems” of Ukraine, something familiar to every Ukrainian but potentially alien to the western world.
The collective’s recent shoot, Vinietka, is a graduation album collating photographs from Ukrainian pupils last year at school. Think secret school cigarettes, necking your first love in the school corridor or getting ready for your graduation party. Captured with a fun, irreverent and inclusive tone and aesthetic, the series shines a light on a tradition that’s a far cry from American proms or yearbooks in your average teen movie.
Stylistically the series is nostalgia-drenched with its fusion of hazy saturation, high flash and dreamy poses. “There are certain patterns that are used by ‘school photographers’ to shoot a graduation album,” the collective tells It’s Nice That. “We unified them and added the reportage-style pictures to show the hidden sides of school life.” From bold celebratory outfits to the classic end of graduation concert group photos, Join The Cool were “inspired a lot by our own vinietkas and tried to re-imagine it in modern reality. We aimed to play on cliches on which any graduation album is usually built-up and, at the same time, to show how the true vinietka can look, the vinietka that we would like to have ourselves. An album that would also show the unpolished sides of school life like drinking beer and smocking your first cigarette in the backyard after classes,” they explain.
The group cast their friends and street cast models from Kiev-based agency Cat-b to have a genuine “real people” aesthetic, basing their character development on the certain type of people who exist in every class, “a sticky couple, a nerd, a sex bomb and a marginal,” they say. Each of those cast for the series has just completed their vinietka, or, were in the process of doing so, lending a natural ease and pervading authenticity to the project.
“Our general mission [as a collective] is to reveal hidden aspects of life in Ukraine and we aim to do it in a performative way," the collective continues. "The mission of this very project was to examine the educational system of Ukraine with all its contradictoriness: older generation of teachers is still following traditions of the Soviet heritage, according to which everybody is equal, while the new generation of our age and younger is pro-European and aims to express the personality. The majority of people we shot for this project were bullied at school and were the black sheep in their classes.”
As for their view on creativity both at school and beyond in post-soviet Ukraine? “We do think that there is nearly no development for creative people in such an environment as a typical Ukrainian school," they say. "The universe we reproduced in this project is in a way utopian school we would like to have in our country: the school where everybody is accepted, the personality is not something you should hide and where everybody have all possibilities for self-realisation without any violence.”