Tagged: Russia

Rest in Power: Natalia Molchanova, Champion Freediver

On August 2, Russian freediver Natalia Molchanova dove off the coast of Spain and never resurfaced. While her whereabouts are unknown, search efforts subsided after three days of efforts yielded no results. Over the course of her career, Molchanova set 41 world records and won 21 gold medals. She was the first woman to pass 100 meters diving with constant weight and the first woman to dive on one breath through Egypt’s Blue Hole arch. On some occasions, her dive times have bested those of the top male competitors.

Natalia Molchanova

Image courtesy of The Guardian

While some viewed Molchanova’s passion for diving as reckless, members of the diving community argued the opposite. The sport requires tremendous levels of focus and calm, allowing the divers to respond to underwater stress and hold their breath to complete the dive. Fellow divers remembered her tremendous spirit, her investment in her competitors’ successes, and her incredible focus that seemed to get better with age.

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Image courtesy of Wikipedia

As a practiced diver, Molchanova understood the risks and took necessary precautions to minimize unnecessary hazards; unfortunately, we may never know what led to her untimely death. But as her colleagues attested, risk is a part of life no matter what a person does; Molchanova’s expert knowledge of the ocean and her razor-sharp technique made the sport seem as risky as any other part of life. Her confidence in herself and her abilities led to tremendous success in a field where anyone else might crumble, serving as an example of how to dream big and chase lofty goals. We salute you, Natalia.

Dame of the Day: Uldus Bakhtiozina

Uldus BakhtiozinaToday’s Dame of the Day is Uldus Bakhtiozina (July 22, 1986-). Born in Russia during the dissolution of the USSR, Bakhtiozina left home at 21 to travel across Asia and later settle in London. As she studied photography at Central Saint Martins, she felt a pull to return to her home country. Today, Bakhtiozina’s magical photographs question Russia’s cultural norms and depict the challenges young Russians face today.

Words + Images: Uldus Bakhtiozina

This year, I want to strike an equal balance between digging deep and paying attention to difficult women’s issues and celebrating the awesome things women do. Today, it’s time to celebrate as we take a look at Russian photographer Uldus Bakhtiozina and her impressive photo collections.

Born and raised in Saint Petersburg, Bakhtiozina studied at Central Saint Martins in London and traveled across Asia before returning to Moscow to work. Through intense collaborations, Bakhtiozina incorporates her models’ thoughts and opinions into her work while performing much of the makeup, styling and staging herself. In 2014, she became the first Russian speaker at the TED conference. Take a look as she discusses her early career and her most recent collections. 

Through Bakhtiozina’s work, she forces viewers to do a double take as she conjures and challenges stereotypes. For her Desperate Romantics series, she photographs Russians in their native country in poses that reflect their personal hopes and dreams. In one image, a broad-shouldered man with a bristly mustache sports a collar made of naked Barbie dolls; a Hulk action figure lurks in the background just out of focus. In another, a woman dressed in wedding garb sits beside a man old enough to be her father; her face is covered by a plastic baby mask. Bakhtiozina’s self-portrait places the artist, sporting a Wonder Woman-inspired outfit, in front of a bombed out building with telephone wire precariously dangling overhead. By her side, a duffle bag painted with the American flag dares her to pack up and leave. While her aesthetic may seem playful on the surface, her cheeky juxtapositions call into questions the country’s broader issues of homophobia, teen marriage, and society’s reluctance to accept non-conformists.

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Photograph courtesy of Uldus Bakhtiozina

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Photograph courtesy of Uldus Bakhtiozina

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Photograph courtesy of Uldus Bakhtiozina

Bakhtiozina’s Skazki series pulls from traditional Russian fairy tales to explore the transformation of women from unmarried girls to brides. According to Bakhtiozina, term “red beauty” used to refer to unmarried Slavic girls. In her photographs, her subjects sport traditional headdresses and costumes; the gold represents marriage while red represents freedom. Her haunting imagery creates a visual bridge between past and future that is difficult to remove from your memory.

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Photograph courtesy of Uldus Bakhtiozina

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Photograph courtesy of Uldus Bakhtiozina

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Photograph courtesy of Uldus Bakhtiozina

Flip through her site to view the full collection and follow her on social media to stay current.

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

After a busy day and a nice run home, what’s better than watching documentaries about political protest in Russia? Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer has been on my list for a while, so I finally committed to watching it.

Pussy Riot

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Formed in August 2011, Pussy Riot wrote songs criticizing Putin and the patriarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church while championing feminism and LGBT rights. They became YouTube sensations by staging unauthorized performances in Red Square and posting videos. One performance in particular, however, sparked a reaction from the government. On February 21, 2012, five members of Pussy Riot took over the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and performed before they were detained by church officials. The documentary centers around Nadia, Masha, and Katia, the three members who went on trial. While Katia was released, Nadia and Masha were sentenced to two years in separate prisons; they were given amnesty just prior to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. Members of Pussy Riot, including Nadia and Masha, performed to protest the games, but the group later issued a statement declaring that Nadia and Masha were no longer members.

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Photo courtesy of BBC.co.uk

The documentary delves into the pasts of the accused, but also questions whether or not the cathedral performance was effective. Religion is a touchy subject in Russia; after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, practicing religion was outlawed. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior was demolished in 1931 and replaced by a swimming pool, but was rebuilt following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Pussy Riot’s performance touched a nerve within the religious community and, some argued, “Now people think that all liberals are intolerant fascists who don’t listen to the opinions of others.” I wondered how much of that statement was true and in which communities it resonated.

I was also reminded of just how quickly the media latches on to story and then discards it when it no longer generates interest. Throughout Nadia’s sentence, a steady stream of articles documenting the prison’s conditions, her ongoing hunger strike, and her exchange of communication with her husband and family. The media cast Masha aside and latched onto Nadia as the face of Pussy Riot. But when the pair were released, media coverage subsided dramatically. While the group’s activity is difficult to find in English media, Nadia and Masha continue to speak at festivals and universities; to find these sources, though, you have to do some digging.

By the end of the film, I found myself drawing parallels to the current protests in Ferguson and wondering how it is possible to affect change within such a rigid system. Documentation is such an important part of the process because without it, movements can be denied and expunged from history. I think of the important work generated from photographers like my friend Lucas or the constant Twitter dialogues from journalist Shaun King that keep the conversation alive. While major media outlets move on to other hot ticket items, there is still work to do.

I don’t know what will happen to Pussy Riot any more than I can predict the outcome of the protests in Ferguson. But I do agree that a critical element of progress is keeping that drive alive. For her closing remarks, Masha faced the court and declared:

You can only deprive me of my “so-called” freedom. Nobody can take my inner freedom. And when this is heard by thousands, this freedom lives in every person who is not indifferent and inside those who hear us in this country, for every person who recognizes a piece of themselves on trial. As in the works of Franz Kafka and Guy Debord, I believe that honest and thirst for truth will make us all a bit more free. We will see this.”

I feel as though this quote extends well beyond the context of Masha’s speech. When the freedom of others is denied, we’re all on trial. Stay thirsty, my friends.

Queen of Chicago: Tatyana McFadden

This past weekend was the 2014 Chicago Marathon. It’s always amazing to watch both the professionals, like winner and defending champion Rita Jeptoo, or amateurs, like my NBR teammates. (Shout out to Angela Ortiz for utterly blowing my mind with a 2:49. Jeez!) Days like that inspire me to get back into training.

Tatyana McFadden

Photo courtesy of Baltimore Magazine

But one of my favorite athletes to track is faster than all of them. Born with spina bifida that left her paralyzed from the waist down, 24 year-old Tatyana McFadden was adopted from Russia when she was a child. She just graduated from the University of Illinois this past spring and started racing when she was eight. In 2009, she signed up for the Chicago Marathon just for fun and shocked everyone by winning the race. Since her early days, she’s demolished her own times and became the first person to ever win a marathon Grand Slam, winning first place titles at Boston, London, Chicago, and New York in 2013.

Gah, ANOTHER Grand Slam? Go for it! Also, this is coming off of a busy winter where she won the silver medal for cross country skiing, a sport she picked up just two years ago, at the Sochi Paralympics. Keep an eye out for her in a few weeks as she competes at the NYC marathon. Good luck, Tatyana!

For more highlights of the weekend, the AP has a lovely photo set here.