First thing you notice about Anastasiya Lazurenko is a contrast of her delicate, frail frame and the sharpness of her manner. I enter a surreal scene in one of the photographer’s abodes – she splits her time between India, Russia, Ukraine and the UK. “Home? What is it? This concept is as meaningless as a ‘good life’. Home is anywhere you fill with ‘your’ people.” She sits hunched under a Hindu symbol of the universe, chain smoking, scribbling something in her sketchbook, while the mood in the room swings and flips and sways. The backdrop is something in between a hippie camp and the setting from a Hunter S Thompson story. The hangout is filled with revving up electric guitar riffs and a plethora of characters – models, photographers, actors, street artists, free thinkers and other inspirational individuals who don’t fit any particular slot. I have a small talk with a painter who hopped the cross country train to travel here. Two kids are playing ‘winter land’ – they have emptied a bag of sugar on the floor and attempt to skate on the ‘crispy white snow’. A rabbit that lunges from under the sofa hardly seems a delirious detail penciled into this vortex. Anastasiya answers my questions in a brash, sometimes tender manner, making her way through a metaphor rich stream of consciousness. Yet she is veritable and you know she isn’t going to drop the act. Pearly Gates, Anastasiya’s project of 6 years centered on female portraiture, brought the photographer into a wide scale of attention. But despite her blossoming popularity (appearance at the Other Art Fair, London, major publications and a photo book coming out soon), Anastasiya subverts any ‘big name’ implications and talks about her work with a self-effacing quality to it.
You call yourself a ‘pornographer’ – what does it mean to you? Your imagery is devoid of explicit nature and hardly feeds the sophomoric drive. Do you use the term in ironic sense?
Yes, definitely. The term should be taken with a degree of irony. The whole universe should be, since everything is a Leela – a creative play by the divine absolute. I am a soul pornographer. I bare a woman’s soul. Pornography is rife not only on the internet but also in everyday life – art, advertising. Sex is largely modeled on pornography. How has it influenced the relations between people? The relations with our own sexuality? How has it changed our ideas of intimacy and closeness? Does your partner watch porn? Does it influence your relationship? Do your friends watch porn? Do you watch porn? Why do you do that? These questions and the answers to them are very personal for every human being. Sex is everywhere. It’s a very huge market, the most expensive product. And porn is the easiest way to ease the tension. But what comes after? It’s an open question.
Do you see sex as a spiritual ritual?
Sex essentially is an exchange of energies. People divide everything into ‘carnal’ and “spiritual”. But life itself is one big spiritual practice, every moment of it is. Iam not talking about praying and chanting day in, day out. Neither I advocate religions or concessions. But I do believe in transcendency. And sex, as a divine confluence of male and female energies, can be used as a very powerful tool to achieve the state of completeness, to explore your innermost self; to learn what awareness and beatitude is and eventually to figure out what life is about. Certainly, if you are interested in such things. Not so many people are.
Oh, I would like to know…
The search for the meaning of life is the same as the search for happiness. But happiness isn’t just excessive stimulation of body and mind. People who have great balance of mind, alertness and awareness do not require
much of such ‘external stimulation’ – rich foods, alcohol, drugs or excessive sexual activities. Sex is a very complex type of practice. Actually, the nature of sexual orgasm is the same type of vibrations of uniting with the Divine.
But it’s not easy to spit it all out in a few sentences.
Pornographic imagery rests on the armature of clichés. Your recent work is noticeably channeled through lesbian narrative. What triggered it?
I can’t say how or when I started exploring lesbian theme in my work. Maybe when my partner shared a fantasy of threesome with me. Or maybe it started at the age of five, when I attended rhythmic gymnastics school, and I was blown away by the otherworldly beauty and physical perfection of the girls around me. When? Why? I’m also interested to know. If we look at it from the spiritual point of view, first, an individual needs to learn to love themselves. Then they need to learn to love someone of the same gender; then, finally, the one of the opposite
gender. These are the stages to the state of completeness and after it’s been achieved, a person becomes fully transcendental and doesn’t need anyone. Some people stop at the second stage, which makes life easier – the relationship with the opposite gender inevitably has a conflict ingrained in it.
‘Pearly Gates’ is a poignant and raw trajectory of female sexuality spun out of your personal explorations into the matter. What is female sexuality for you?
Openness to the new and the ability to be happy, independently happy. Independency is very sexy. Also wisdom, the ability to love, definitely not legs or hair. I love all body types, all shapes of ears, lips, eyes, color of skin.
What do you believe are the biggest demons for women in search of their womanhood and beauty?
There is no need to search for it or define it – it’s already in you. Quieten your mind and you’ll be able to see it. Although it’s the most difficult thing – to reach the state of calmness. Sometimes it’s necessary to go through all the hell of our troubled minds to find that inner peace. Do not define your womanhood or beauty – just be yourself. Love, give, be who you are – that’s what womanhood is.
In description to Pearly Gates you persecute soulless commercialism and mass media standards of beauty. However, the tenacity of your crusade against model-crazed world seems to bee abating.
Yes, we still think beauty is defined by the covers of glossy magazines. But I no longer make any loud statements. I’ve been working on this project for six years, and I can also see that berating glossiness has become a popular subject in the glossy magazines themselves. This battle with unrealistic standards has become a pop trend. Both sides are the same broken record player, going back and forth.
Many girls can spot individuality in others but are afraid to discover it in themselves. Instead they look for some kind of similarity with others. We gravitate to the familiar – such is our nature. Also girls are very dependent on men’s
opinion what is sexy and what isn’t. That’s why selfies and Instagram are so popular. This is both the need to seek for approval and a form of ego masturbation.
A lot of photographers nowadays have shifted to ‘realism’ and it has become a kind of game, a staged genre. As a philosophical concept, realism has a lot to do with a photographer themselves, not only a photograph or what’s in it. Creating a realistic photograph requires being like a pane of glass – clear-eyed, free from judgements or prejudices and pure. Do you believe your work is realistic in that sense? What do you believe makes an image realistic? Is it merely the display of imperfections?
Realism is rubbish. Photographic art is born when it’s 50/50 of you and who or what you shoot. My work is transcendental, not realistic at all. I don’t claim that my photographic vision is the ultimate knowledge of some sorts. I know as much as you or anyone else does. My photography is transcendental knowledge and I can’t explain it with words – you either understand it or you don’t. That’s all.
Can you share your “Junkie in the Vatican” dream? And how you saw it as an allegory of the world’s addiction to social and mass media?
Working on “Pearly Gates” was a long, intense, transcendental experience. Once I had a dream I was on the steps of the Vatican. I was a shaved head junkie, unable to enter the sanctum. I saw this vision as a metaphor of mass media
addicts – people, who lost their way to illumination, and yet who are one step away from it. However, my muses and I are changing the world through our art, starting from ourselves. It’s our own liberation in the first place.
If you aim to pass a message via your pictures, what is it? What would you like to tell the viewers?
Karma. Dharma. Moksha. Love and Light.
Ukrainian born in 1987, Anastasiya Lazurenko is a nomadic photographer who divides her time between India, Russia, Ukraine and the UK. Anastasiya’s work has appeared in British Journal of Photography, Calvert Journal, Dazed Digital, Apogee Journal, I-D, The Eye of Photography (L’Oeil de la Photographie), Aesthetica Magazine and other publications. Pearly Gates, a photo project of 6 years, is a concentrated representation of women that live around us. Using the strong energy of film technique, Anastasiya creates a signature documentary form, bringing into the daylight aesthetic that isn’t ‘sexy’ or ‘perfect’, as defined by the conventional standards. Pearly Gates is a nominee of numerous competitions, including Le Photobookfest, Paris (2014), Barcelona International Photography Awards (2015), Athens Photo Festival (2015) and Rendez-Vous Image, France (2015). To see more of Anastasiya Lazurenko’s work please go to www.inaprilwetrust.com.