New East Digital Archive

30 November 2021

For Russian photographer Julia Kaydala, spontaneity is key to creativity. “I can hardly ever sit down and come up with an idea. I could sit staring at a blank page forever,” she says. “The spontaneous part is usually something I’ve heard, seen or experienced. Sometimes, it can start from just one thought, and expands like a script.”

Most of Kaydala’s recent body of work was shot in the countryside just outside of Moscow, where she could let this spontaneous nature shine. “Perhaps I love shooting in the countryside because of how rare sunshine and warmth are in the Russian climate. Nature is a ready-made backdrop. I love it when I have a lot of options for moving around and opportunities to try something we haven’t planned,” she says.

Escapism permeates Kaydala’s images. We see young people roaming around the countryside, through ponds, fields, and fairytale-hued forests. Raw emotions gleam like soft light on the water: a kiss, a walk in the fog, a dip in the river. The people in front of Kaydala’s lens are friends and peers, who lightheartedly answer her call for more adventure.

The cinematic quality of Kaydala’s work traces its roots back to her early experiences with photography, when it served as a way of creating her own world. “I remember staging shoots with old compact cameras and mobile phones when I was a child – I was always the main character because I had no friends, so I was trying to create a different world for myself,” she remembers. “As I became older, photography became my main way of connecting with other people. When you have a camera in your hands, you’re never shy or intimidated. Now I’m starting to appreciate the process more, learning to transfer my idea from my head into reality. I love seeing these stories coming together”.

Filled with light and nature, Kaydala’s imagery creates a new backdrop for Russia’s Gen Z, who are usually depicted caged in urban settings like the Millenial, post-Soviet generation before them. Not unlike the early-career photographs of Ryan McGinley, which documented America’s youth roaming fields and woods, naked and happy, it offers an opportunity for a sincerity hard to achieve in imposing, built-up areas.

In this way, Kaydala is interested in getting to the essence of things, in creating something new and fresh in the world which is already over-saturated with images. “Nowadays, we are surrounded by things which are meant to ‘inspire’ us – and this era of oversaturation often puts me into a creative stupor. Excess becomes scarcity,” she says. “At the moment, I am trying to find inspiration in myself and routine, mundane things, which helps me to express myself more clearly and distinctly.”