Let’s meet up with… Irina Popova

Irina Popova won the first prize in the 2013 theme category Extremely Normal with her photo series Apt. 779. She is a young photographer hailing from Russia with several awards to her name. Irina’s work was exhibited in France, Canada, Ukraine, Georgia, Netherlands, and her native Russia. The series portrays the playful yet dramatic life in Apt. 779 in a flat in Moscow, which a group of 5 (sometimes 6 or 7) lesbian girls shared.
 
Apt. 779 by Irina Popova
 
Life in Apt. 779 was far from boring! What attracted you to document it?
I was a part of the community for a long time (in total more than half a year). At the time I needed a place to live in Moscow, and one of the girls invited me to stay there at a rather cheap rent. She was a long-time friend, so I agreed. I didn’t participate much in most of the events. I found it rather difficult to separate my own privacy needs (when I wanted to close my door and not see anybody) from my social life, spending times with my roommates, and from photography. I think photography was not my top priority at the time, that’s why I documented life in the apartment only once every so often.
 
You said at some point that that the girls “can’t gain enough understanding in the outside world”. As somebody who silently witnessed it behind the camera, how would you describe the life for LGBT’s in Russia?
I think that LGBT communities live compactly in almost every big city in Russia. They don’t talk too much about the discrimination they face. They don’t try to fight it and they would even consider showing their relationships in the open to be an unnecessary provocation. They are very reserved towards the outside world. Some of them work in governmental organizations or as police officers; others work in shops, always in contact with other people. But they never talk about their private life. Some people may guess by their looks or behaviour, but this kind of private questions (“Are you gay?”) are considered bad form. As a result, LGBT people are very much isolated in small communities, the only place where they can be themselves. They change partners often and are rarely able to build a family or a long-term relationship because of their sexual orientation.
 
You portrayed this series in black & white. Was there a specific reason for that?
I didn’t think too much about the final result when I took those photos. Honestly, I didn’t even hope to find a place and time to show it. For me it was merely communicating through my camera, along with creating my personal visual memory, by documenting what I had seen. However, I knew that the things and events happening around me were somewhat extraordinary, something you wouldn’t often have the chance to witness or document.
 
You have won quite a reputation by embedding yourself and your camera in the life of ‘controversial’ people. Your series Another Family [about a couple of drug users and their young daughter] is perhaps the most prominent. Could you tell us more about what motivates you in your art?

I think that showing people who live on the fringe of society and how they struggle to survive in a world that does not perceive them as ‘normal’ is my drive, both in my photography and in my personal search. For me, it’s an attempt to look beyond the barriers, to see as far as I can reach. I am a bit of an outsider myself. When I photograph marginal people, even they regard me as a complete outsider in their world. My ideal is to break all the barriers in society, stop discrimination, and make people live peacefully, help and understand each other. But sometimes I’m afraid that by exposing them to the public I only build a higher barrier and cause more tension in society.
Another Family was the point of no return for me. People got furious about the series and wrote a complaint to the police. I have been meditating a lot on the role of the photographer, and as a result I created a photo book of that series, which is to be published in February 2014.
 
Interview by Claudia Vendrik
 
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See the series Apt. 779 together with all the winners of 2013 here on our site.
 
Irina Popova’s Apt. 779 is currently shown at the Love Aids Riot Sex II exhibition at the nGbK in Berlin until March 9th 2014. The exhibition also features the work of another award-winning photographer from Pride Photo Award 2013 edition, The Other Side of Venus by Anna Charlotte Schmid (see full interview here).
 
The photo series will be included in the photo book Pride Uncovered, for which we are raising funds on crowdfunding site Indiegogo. The book will include all the awarded photos and series of the first five editions of Pride Photo Award. We hope you are willing to support the campaign with a contribution and by sharing it with your friends, if you haven’t already done so!

Pride Photo Award is an annual international contest for photos about sexual and gender diversity.

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