A tribute to the flash-lit works of Bruce Gilden, Nikita Teryoshin documents the hidden world of urban cats

In his new series, the Berlin-based photographer gets up close and personal with his favourite subject – the street cats of St. Petersburg, Bangkok and Atlantic City.

3 December 2020

Are you a cat person, or do you prefer dogs? Before you answer this, consider the fact that your response may give clues to the type of person you are. Because, regardless of whether or not you actually own one, some might say that those who perceive themselves as “dog people” are more social and outgoing. Meanwhile, “cat people” may be more neurotic, creative and open. Of course, these associations are controversial and highly speculative, but there’s much to be said on the topic of pet preference.

Photographer Nikita Teryoshin admits he is a cat person through and through. The Berlin-based photographer – born in St. Petersburg and raised in Dortmund – experienced the heartbreaking moment of their family cat, Amur, passing away 13 years ago. “We were very sad and didn’t get a new cat,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I heard of all the cute cat videos on the internet but never watched them.” Then, a few weeks ago, he finally brought himself to watch the documentary by Arte about cats “getting back to nature, hunting and killing all other birds and animals on a French island, New Caledonia.” And suddenly, Nikita was reminded of the predatory nature of cats – and that’s when a project idea was born.

Backyard Diaries, in this sense, is a photography project about the hidden world of urban cats – the felines who roam the streets of St. Petersburg and go about their slinky, secretive antics. During summer last year, Nikita had encountered a few of these “interesting characters” in the backyard of his house. Two cats, he remembers, were sleeping on a car and awoke to the sound of him raising his camera. “The moment of awaking was really interesting because they started to realise the situation very fast,” he says, “and one of the cats put its head on the other, and its ears were down. It just looked amazing to me.” This inspired Nikita to follow their tracks around the city, which soon expanded further afield to Bangkok and Atlantic City.


Nikita Teryoshin: Backyard Diaries (Copyright © Nikita Teryoshin, 2020)

With an aim to photograph “special” felines only and to portray them in less obvious manners, Nikita wanted his subjects to be shot away from the typical, touristy parts of the cities. “I was also thinking of the project Face by Bruce Gilden, because of the strong characters of the cats,” he adds, using a medium format Leica S to capture more details. “So it’s also a tribute to the master of street flash.” With these references in mind, he captures his subjects’ facial expressions, appearing to be frozen in that very moment in time. The greatest difference, though, is that his subjects aren’t human, which is quite the turn from Gilden’s stark and revealing photographs of city dwellers.

In using his Leica S, Nikita exclaims how this highlights an interesting contrast. As a camera commonly used in high-end fashion and advertising, the photographer wanted to use the fine-tuned lens to show the most “unprivileged creatures” and to bring them into the spotlight. “No cute cat content, but pictures showing the real struggles of cats,” he says. “And also beautiful moments of cohesion.”

Steering away from the usual cat tropes found online, Nikita points out one of his favourite pictures: one of a cat from Atlantic City. He recalls a homeless man called Timmy the Catfather who took care of the local cats, and how he’d helped him to find his subject. “It was super old and it trusted me pretty fast,” says Nikita, “and I loved its expression sitting between the famous boardwalk (they used to live under it in igloos), and the Atlantic ocean.” On capturing the cat’s attention, Nikita would intuitively use some “weird sounds” to draw them in. It’s a process that worked out well for the photographer, despite how stray cats are very “careful” and it’s usually not too easy to get close to them – perhaps because of a distrust of humans or the profound need to roam alone.

The funny thing is, at the start of this project, Nikita was on his way to shoot a defence trade fair in St. Petersburg for a series titled Nothing personal – the back office of war. On the second day, he grew tired of “all the guys” in their grey suits, “selling weapons and killing machines”. Instead, he turned towards finding backyard cats as a distraction. That’s why Nikita holds his project so close to his heart, as not only is it a documentation of strength, everyday struggle and a quest to make something completely different to typical “cat content”, it’s also a refreshing moment for his practice. “It was also a great change for me and my photography soul, not to go mad.”

GalleryNikita Teryoshin: Backyard Diaries (Copyright © Nikita Teryoshin, 2020)

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Nikita Teryoshin: Backyard Diaries (Copyright © Nikita Teryoshin, 2020)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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