In this month’s gallery, Polari features the work of Russian photographer Andrei Vishnyakov. I first became aware of Andrei’s work on deviantART, the social network and portfolio site for artists worldwide. His photography is striking and often beautiful in its simplicity. His subjects, predominantly male, are fascinating insomuch that none of these young men model professionally. They come from gyms, street gangs and (sometimes) weddings…
When did you first realise that photography was your calling?
I think when I was 15-16, and I started with film photos. And 4 years ago as a profession, or let’s say when I started to charge for photos.
When you first started out, how did you find your models?
First it was through friends, but then the social networks appeared and now most of my models I get from there.
Are you open about your sexuality with your models, or do you find that creates a barrier and so you keep your sexual identity a secret?
With some models I am open, sometimes not. I do work a lot with skinheads, street gangs and other funny characters, and for me its much more important to shoot the photographs than to be ‘out & proud’.
Skinheads? Is that why you have said that you treat all of your models as if they might cut your throat at any minute?
Yes. And seriously, some of them really could. But it doesn’t mean that I am scared. No. I am really relaxed and it always surprises them – they expect their criminal image to be dangerous. The idea of a threat might help me focus in my sessions with girls. If you do one thing wrong, one wrong word or look, they collapse and it destroys any chance of further (productive) shooting.
Is this what you meant when you said that women can be the worst subject matter to photograph? Could you talk about why you find this to be so.
For many reasons, but they are not matters of aesthetic, they are mostly psychological. There is something wrong with our culture when even young girls hate themselves, or are at least unhappy with their ‘look’ and their bodies. Even if they are slim, fit and really good looking as many girls in Russia are, they go nuts in photo sessions: “my nose is longer from the left side”, “my right eye is ugly” – I have heard some really strange opinions. And posing! They learn some typically hoochy poses as teenagers and it’s so hard to get rid of those bad habits.
Do you think that because you are a gay man that it somehow makes your photography intrinsically ‘gay’?
I am afraid yes. But I am okay with it. There is a certain degree of sex in my photos. Most gay art is so directly erotic, often too sweet or pornographic. I am more interested in the inner world of my models. I know all photographers say that, and don’t get me wrong, a good butt is a must! But for me it is more interesting to see what a model projects and what is his real character. Sometimes there is a gap between an aggressive ‘look’ and romantic soul. Sometimes what you see, it’s what’s inside – like the sexually charged domination of one pure and young. Truth is sexy.
You have said that you don’t see yourself as a good photographer. I disagree, I think you light your images beautifully, and they are always impeccably framed. Is your criticism of your own work based on a commercial barometer?
I do get good photos, and sometimes I get photos that are ‘bigger’ than me, as I feel it. But I am really just lucky with models! And light … it just goes to the right places. Okay maybe framing is what I do and it’s a problem I can’t crop photos later to correct or get rid of something because it is done as I want it – I think its because I am used to film photos. Photography is my only work now, I do weddings and event photography, I even like it, seriously. Weddings can be a good way to get some new models. I am not good at selling myself, but not as bad as some other photographers who are just a bit lazy. I think a real photographer shapes images of what they want, as I call it, a forced reality. All I do, is to get another hot guy, switch on one light and have a relaxed, conversational photo session.
You have self-published a book of portraits on Lulu. Has this been a positive experience?
I sold few, these are small books and I need to do a bigger one, but I am so bad at design! Really! I can’t draw, can’t organize. But I got some mail from this one guy in the States, he was in hospital and his friend brought my book for him, and as he said “lust and hunger” was a good motivator for him to get well faster.
You have an active account on deviantART, where you have a lot of fans. Has this community of ‘friends’ been important to you as a growing artist?
Yes, a lot. You know I don’t get much response on my photos in Russia. One or two comments, but not from artists. But on dA I have people whose opinion and criticism (and yes, compliments too) which helps me to understand my photos. And all my photos can be used freely for other artists as reference in non-commercial projects.