By Ira Lupu
Along with natural landscapes, nude or seminude women are probably the most loved and safe objects for any photographer to capture. Yet Ukraine native Anastasiya Lazurenko proves that even in such a hackneyed field of art as female portraiture there are still some secret essences to extract.
Lazurenko’s forthcoming book Pearly Gates is a collection of sensual analogue images of her muses, mainly Eastern European beauties. The photographer is rather into the philosophy of Hinduism, and at the same time she’s not the one to pontificate a lot about own art. But the name Pearly Gates, which spans such meanings as Christian celestial gateway, LSD type, and vagina covered with sperm, gives a bold hint for understanding. The photos offer a soft trip to the depths of female psyche and sexuality, maybe even a stealthy quest for holy eros. ‘Sex is not only about the direct touch, it is everywhere. The nature of orgasm is in the vibrations of bliss, that can be felt anytime — and the spiritual practise leads to it’, says Anastasiya, and there is a temptation to agree.
Still, in her work there aren’t any deliberate symbols often used by visual artists for giving their narrative a transcendental undertone. No mandalas, no crosses, no ritual knives and emphatically rolled eyes: the Pearly models can wear mundane rubber shoes or lay next to plastic shower gel bottle, yet the whole journey is far more gauzy. The artist calls her art process ‘a shamanism’, which may sound loud, but I must confirm it’s likely to be true. When preparing this article, the subtle, a bit shy blonde took me to Southern Ukraine’s surreal Kinburn peninsula, got me undressed by the banks of local lake (weirdly enough, it was called Pearly), and only with few words and several clicks of her huge old Polaroid camera, she made something that kept me in uncanny, visceral trembling the whole following night.
Yet apart from her self-invented sex magick, Anastasiya Lazurenko’s work is pretty much about exploding the stereotypes — especially modern beauty standards in Ukraine and Russia, the countries she lives and often works in. Pearly Gates is a dedication to one of her first favourite models, Valeriya Koshkina (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vOv4AtOQAU, Lazurenko’s photos start from 0:58), who died from anorexia in 2013. Once, a classmate told Koshkina she has ‘fat arms’, which urged her to start losing weight. Afterwards, she began to dream about becoming a media star; obviously, she thought that leanness is a sure way to make it happen. Actually, the dream became true when Valeriya and her mother became frequent guests at Russian talk shows where they were warning the girls about horrors of eating disorders, and persuading them to appreciate themselves the way they are. When Valeriya have passed away, Anastasiya, who loved her badly and took plenty of her portraits in state of illness, ‘was overwhelmed with a strong feeling of guilt’. ‘I felt guilty for all of us, who worship the media cult of the skinny and support fake destructive stereotypes of beauty’, the photographer writes in description of her photo 2011-2015 series. ‘Since then I promised myself not to retouch photos at all and to show wild raw sex, the energy of freedom, intimacy and love. I felt guilty for anything except love.’
The much-discussed problem of those ‘fake destructive stereotypes of beauty’ is topical all around the globalized world, but in some Slavic parts of Eastern Europe, it appears to be in certain tide. It is already quarter of a century that Soviet Union have ceased to exist; culturally, the Slavs have always had their own strong ancient roots, but all the way many people here still feel a bit distracted about their identity. ‘Of course it’s not only Eastern Europe but the whole world which follows the trends imposed by five megalopolises. Yet the land is close to more established parts of Europe, which lays on post-Soviet inner conflict of national and self-identity. The 90’s generation may be an example: the guys haven’t been educated in a patriotic manner and thus they remained psychologically aside’, Lazurenko tells. ‘On the other hand, in some regions there is such an overlap of ideological slavery, that the life itself becomes insignificant’.
Add an enormous pressure of Western mass culture, that inflicts young girls’ fragile minds; add their pink hopes to run a more pleasurable life than an average post-Soviet one; add common teen hesitance, so you’ll get why sometimes their vision of own beauty becomes a bit malformed. ‘But the mixture of bloods here gives the local people the unique beauty and energy’, Lazurenko adds. ‘Yes, this topic of modern standards and the sufferings they cause is really popular today, and it results in many photographic projects showing the true nature of people. And to me, true art is always about true nature. This is the art that opens up the human soul and doesn’t create perfect world to replace the real one, aiming to earn some money with that illusion… But that’s the other long story’.
Anastasiya Lazurenko’s work may be seen as a tender battle for inherent female beauty, with no or little postmodern livor mortis. It can be felt even from photographer’s easy, non-intentional manner of shooting, when most of the locations, poses and facial expressions come just naturally.
Pearly Gates is to be published soon by Centerfold Editions (http://www.centerfold-editions.com). Sang Bleu presents the selection of Anastasiya Lazurenko’s pictures taken in different parts of the world, including Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Latvia, Great Britain, Greece and India.