New East Digital Archive

12 November 2021

Bogdan Shirokov’s artistic universe is endlessly immersive. By capturing intimate moments with clear light and soft textures, his images seem to affect more of your senses than mere vision. His work possesses a comforting tactility, a sense of curious exploration.

The results take the viewer on a journey that isn’t just about showing objects or things, but invites us to reconsider how we engage with our environment. It is an odyssey which starts and ends within the viewer themselves. Each of Shirokov’s images changes in the eye of the beholder, their vision determined by the shifting ideas of identity and self in the 21st century.

“I started doing photography when I got my first camera at the age of 12,” Shirokov remembers. “Ever since then, I’ve known that photography is about more than documenting my friends and surroundings. I loved the very idea that you can grasp the moment, preserve it, or even steal it. I was mesmerised; it was something of an escape.”

Shirokov grew up in a small town in western Siberia called Megion. He recalls an almost endless winter followed by a very short summer. “The vast snowy tundra is an image that is ingrained within me,” he says. “As a consequence, I always strive to create something filled with light and nature.”

Later the photographer moved to Moscow, where he took up working in fashion, mostly shooting editorials. But he also continued to develop his own personal projects. He soon realised that his own artistic work often generated more response online than his editorial work, and that something within his vision resonated with the global audience. “I suddenly felt that I’d allowed myself to be an artist, and realised that I could have a voice.”

A large part of Shirokov’s practice is based on portraiture or, more precisely, on his interaction with the people in front of his lens. The portraits he shoots are often fluid, fragmentary, captured in motion. There is always a sense of spontaneity and collaboration.

“When I meet someone I’m shooting for the first time, I’m never completely sure if anything will actually come out of it. It’s crucial for me to talk and understand how a person feels and what they are thinking about. It’s that moment of connection. Once I get an insight into how they see the world, that’s where the creative process begins,” Shirokov explains.

This interest in the inner world of his subjects, and the way they see themselves in the society, is at the core of Shirokov’s project The Hermits, which the artist developed for Futures Photography and The Calvert Journal in 2021. “It’s about young people searching for tranquility in the urban space. It’s about understanding that it’s not easy to hide from the noise here, and the need for a sanctuary and escape.”

The Hermits stems directly from Shirokov’s own experience of Moscow’s urban space, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, when the need to escape from mundanity had never been greater. His first solo exhibition, Topophilia, which took place in Moscow in Spring 2021, looked at finding comfort in the space of your own home: defined by objects such as a mattress crowned with fresh flowers, or photographs printed on soft white fabric to create the sense of an intimate sanctuary. The Hermits looks at this notion of finding sanctuary further afield, in parks, lakes, in the touch of flower blossoms or fresh soil.

The question of gender and the photographer’s perspective also regularly appears in relation to Shirokov’s work. Although it is not a conscious decision, the photographer finds that he mostly shoots men, forging a new visual language of beauty, vulnerability, and openness. The photographer admits that he was traumatised by the gender binary and the rigid idea of Russian masculinity while growing up, an experience which has since motivated him to find new ways of looking at the male body beyond mainstream ideas of strength and control. “I understand that it’s not so much about the individual but is actually a broader social issue that needs to be addressed. And because it riles something in me, I try to talk about, explore it, and think it through,” he says.

Ultimately, The Hermits is about the possibility of an escape and finding an authentic connection in today’s world – a much-needed offering to the viewer. “This is nature which sprouts through urban textures, and our drive to be closer to it,” Shirokov says. “One of the people I shot for the project was a dancer. When he started moving in front of my camera in a park filled with sunlight, it was a very special moment which neither of us have experienced before — not unlike a magical ritual.”

This feature is part of The Calvert Journal and Futures Photography collaboration – you can watch Bogdan Shirokov’s video interview on @calvertjournal instagram.