Nadia Bedzhanova is a Russian ex-pat now living in New York where she creates emotional films and photographs focused on the international unification of youth culture. And while the fashion world and photographers and filmmakers all obsess with the young, creating endless images thereof—Bedzhanova somehow stands apart from the oversexed crowd of youth worshippers. Here, she explains to us why and introduces some of her work.
So you’re a Russian filmmaker living here in the States. Can you tell me a little bit about how and where you grew up, how it led you to be interested in film, and why you moved to the US?
I was born and raised in Moscow, not in the city center but not in the suburbs either. I studied in gymnasium for my middle and high school, in a class advanced in humanities. It cultivated in me ability to enjoy and analyze literature work, that later led to do the same with films, photoseries and other genres of visual arts.
In my teenage years I got my first camera. It was digital and it was more for fun than for pretentious artsy shots. However, there were times when my high school girlfriend and I tried to take some “conceptual” pictures, and our classmates often made fun at us. I am laughing at my old photography too, but doing it and practicing all the time helped me to develop a sense of composition, lighting and just whatever makes the picture look good.
Afterwards, I went to university for BA in journalism (major in photojournalism) and kept improving my skills in visualizing and documenting a specific moment, as well as working with models / actors, thinking through the concept and the story.
In some time I felt like I wanted to expand my stories beyond one frame, or a series of frames: I wanted to have a movement in a shot, along with the camera movements. I started to try myself in videomaking and got accepted at School of Visual Arts in NYC, where I pursued my masters in film directing. The US is the place with the most developed film industry, and this is one of the reasons I moved here. My Moscow background juxtaposing with my five year experience in NYC brought me to where I am now, creatively, mentally and physically; with the help of the great teachers in Russia and the US: Leo Sobolev, Alexander Lapin, Amresh Sinha, Michael Holman.
In a few words, photography and literature led me to filmmaking, and a long time experience shooting in the US, Russia and Europe made me who I am now. And this is how the ball got rolling.
Were there any Russian film makers or artists who influenced your growing up?
In my very early twenties I started to read film history books and watch all the first Soviet movies and experiments in montage. It sure influenced on me as a filmmaker. I might not be original saying that Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, short films by Maya Deren (although she lived in the US but she was born in Kiev, Ukraine), all the work of Andrei Tarkovsky are made a huge impact on me, while I was still developing my personality as a filmmaker.
However, there are two contemporary cinematographers, whom I got lucky to know personally, who inspired and helped me at the very beginning of my movie making journey: Igor Kropotov and Alexander Khudokon. They are extremely talented people, also from Russia and based in NYC. They were the first who introduced me to New York scene of young filmmakers when I just moved to the city. I admire their work, and it was an example for me at the very beginning.
You’re really interested in the universality of youth culture, which is in large part a phenomenon of the Internet and our new found connectedness. What do you hope to convey to people who see your latest photos and films in this regard? Why is “youth” an important aesthetic for people of all ages and walks of life to understand?
Youth is the first period of life that everyone consciously lives through: when you think of yourself as an adult and try to behave accordingly. Although sometimes it doesn’t look like it – everyone has their own experience, and it is surely one of the most important milestones in person’s life.
Thankfully, my generation was the last one who had a chance to grow up without being stuck 24/7 in a posting / choosing filters coma, checking amount of followers and throwing dust in everyone’s eyes with their virtual alter egos. I’m not saying I’m not doing it now – we all want to show only the bright side of the moon – but I didn’t care and didn’t even know about it, while studying algebra or philosophy of Age of Enlightenment. But “Generation Now” is basically born online. I don’t even want to start talking about teens in 15 years from now, who were literally born with their logins and passwords – thanks to their moms who had already made them profile pages in every social media possible.
But what inspires me, is that in this total chaos of chasing popularity and useless information, there are a lot of amazing young individuals, whom I wish I were in the past. These people are the ones who make me want to create. And they are everywhere, all over the world – and because of this easy online connectedness we can see them and admire them.
The idea of global connection itself is also one of the motifs I like to expose in my work. First, it appeared in my short film Wasteland. Then in my new upcoming photoseries, that I took in different hotel rooms during my business trip shoot: sexy selfies and the screenshots of the comments I got from a person I was sending them to. This series is full of self-irony and a hint of narcissism. The phenomenon of emojis, stickers, selfies and photos replacing the actual words and lively communication makes us don’t care about it’s etymology and even the language the person originally speaks on. Lastly, the composition of my first feature script consists of a few different stories set around the world portraying different characters with a specific mental problem, speaking different languages and meeting each other online.
The idea of youth is one of my main sources of inspiration is also because still being in my late twenties I had a very bare idea of what happens beyond it. Sometime I am also missing being a teen, especially a bad one, because I was always nerdy and wasn’t allowed to party with my mates. By working on these stories I was living it myself again, exaggerating the moments I lived through. Youth is the only age when you are allowed to be confused or too self-confident.
What are you working on right now?
Right now we are on a post production of an experimental short film featuring Paz De La Huerta, which I did in collaboration with a photographer Alexey Yurenev. We are finishing the editing and working on a distribution. Meanwhile, I’m writing a feature script, the one I’ve mentioned before, – five different stories set around the world portraying different characters with a rare OCD issue, speaking different languages and meeting each other online; I’m very familiar with this disorder myself. I also keep exploring and looking for characters for my Diary series.
Tell us about your film Wasteland.
I’ve been doing film and photography with the prevailed motifs of intimacy, uncertain sexuality, confusion, digitalism, attraction, endorphins. My recent film Wasteland is about the universal waste of time, state of texting coma, internet surfing, forever hanging out. There is an ensemble of characters loitering around the locations of Paris, Moscow and NYC, chatting online and sending pictures to each other in a global location of internet. Space and time shrink, and despite the time difference they still waste it together.
And about Headlong?
Another film of mine, Headlong, is about the ephemeral relationships between two teenage girls, set after-school in a swimming pool with Post-Soviet entourage. Teenage sexuality and confusion in today’s Moscow, Russia, is the subject I really care about. There is no freedom left for people who are “not like the others”, sexual minorities are being pressured. With this story I wanted to show that everything is formed and acknowledged in the age when you don’t understand much and don’t fall for forced rules of society. You only fall for attempts to figure yourself out.
Headlong was premiered on Brooklyn Short Film Festival 2015 and was published on Snob, one of the biggest Russian magazines. There were no international premiere yet.
The still photos from your diary project are so emotional, so cinematic. Could you tell us a bit more about some of your favorite subjects?
I met Hector in Paris last January, when I was producing Parisian part of Wasteland. A few days ago he came to NYC for a weekend – and it was the most amazing time I’ve spent in a long period of time. These pictures were taken then, on 35mm film, along with a short digital video that I’m currently editing with a lot of screenshots and texting etiquette.
Bruna and Jaq
I first shot these twins two years ago – I did a video featuring new faces for one fashion magazine. Two years after, I chose to do a shoot with Bruna and Jaqueline for Muse Management. We chilled for a little bit in my friends loft, I didn’t really want them to do anything – just relax, get into almost dreamy condition. The pictures turned out to be very fragile and intimate, full of sensuality – this insecure, very naive and innocent state of mind, but in the meantime there is something insanely sexual about it. I love the girls and enjoyed shooting them every time.
Ashley Smith is the queen of everything. She is open-minded, crazy fun, extremely charming, and probably one of a few girls I am very attracted to. I took these pictures in Cape Cod during the vacation every person can dream about. She is dating a very good friend of mine Charlie Himmelstein, and I just adore all our gang and glad that they exist in my life. They bring so-called lightness of being, but not the unbearable one.
Nastya is my little sister that I never had – a girl from Moscow whom I met in New York and with whom we just speak the same language. Not just literal, but visual too. These pictures were taken on her rooftop in Bushwick. I wanted to juxtapose very sensitive and fragile female body with a brutal construction: some kind of a visual symbolism.
How did your recent collaboration with Gosha Rubchinskiy come about? How does the two of you’s interest in youth culture overlap?
Gosha is an amazing artist and designer, who’s theme is very close to me: young people in Russia, their surroundings, influences of society with the certain rules. I was very happy to have his input on Wasteland – although the whole film was done by myself, but having the characters self styled with Gosha’s garments clearly emphasized the motifs of wasted youth and world’s universality. I’m very proud that Gosha’s name is known worldwide – it makes me proud for Russia and the artists from my country as well.
I love when you talk about sensuality in your work (in other interviews). Would it be fair to say that where so many people portray youth culture through hyper-sexuality, your work portrays hyper-sensuality?
I’m trying to keep myself away from hyper-sexuality and portray hyper-sensuality simply because I know the second one better. How Joseph Brodskiy said: “Я любил немногих. Однако – сильно.” (“When I loved, I loved deeply. But it wasn’t often.” – poem “I sit by the window”). Also, everything now is hyper-sexual, we see nudity literally everywhere. More asses, more bigger asses! Let’s all learn how to twerk! I do know how to twerk too, but can I please not post the video of it to my instagram? Sorry, I got less followers than you.
Everything is exposed nowadays. Let’s all be feminists and not shave our armpits and legs for ages – and let’s definitely take thousands of selfies of it for public. What is that feministic about it? We live in the post-porn era, where absolutely nothing can surprise anymore. We see nudity every day, naked men, women and transgender people, celebrities and friends; so images of nudity for us are like pictures of cute cats or food. I’m not saying that I don’t like it, but hyper-sexuality shouldn’t be the major theme that can sell everything nowadays. However, I’m trying to explore sensuality, which is more honest and genuine way to show a person’s inner self without exposing too much. I think it turns on even more.