Gay Russians living in the shadows

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Tatiana Vingradova took portraits of young gay men in Russia

The somber mood reflects their real-life isolation and loneliness

CNN  — 

When photographer Tatiana Vinogradova set out to document the intolerance toward homosexuality in Russia, her first challenge was finding people willing to be captured on camera.

“Reality has driven the gay community underground,” Vinogradova said. “In Russia, only 1% of the gay population dares to live openly. That is why the general mood in my work is dark and melancholic.

“The visual concept mirrors the idea that being gay in Russia is not a rainbow-colored life. In our country, rainbows have some very somber shades.”

The numbers present a stark reality. Vinogradova read a 2013 survey by the Levada Center that said 74% of Russians did not think homosexuality should be accepted by society. Additionally, it said 16% of Russians thought gay people should be isolated from society, 22% thought they should be forced to undergo treatment and 5% thought they should be “liquidated.”

Photographer Tatiana Vinogradova

Unable to stay indifferent about this intolerance, Vinogradova wanted to use her camera as a way to promote human rights and advocate for social change. She reached out to LGBT organizations and social networking sites looking for subjects.

Many of the responses were rejections, claiming that they saw the importance of her project but weren’t ready to come out through a photograph.

Not everyone had the same reaction, however, and Vinogradova was able to begin her project. Using natural light, she was able to reflect their inner isolation and loneliness.

Before taking their photographs, Vinogradova would have conversations with her subjects and a personal story emerged for each one: “About rejection by their parents and intolerance from society, about coming out and accepting themselves as gay, about loneliness and fears, about their dreams and love,” she said.

The photos in her project, “Melancholy Days,” were captured over a two-year span, full of men who were tired of hiding their true selves.

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    Vinogradova still doesn’t understand why they are so ostracized by society. But she does believe that portraits have power.

    “I chose to take poetic, intimate portraits depicting an internal beauty of the characters,” she said. “And I want people to take just a few minutes to recognize each other’s beauty instead of attacking each other for their differences.”

    Vinogradova started photography three years ago. It gives her creative fulfillment while also immortalizing moments and emotions that she wants to share with others.

    Currently, Vinogradova is working on more portrait series.

    “For me, portraiture is the hardest and the same time, most mysterious genre,” she said. “It invites the viewer to study another person with an immediacy that could never be experienced in real life without embarrassment. Also, it describes how venturous and curious you are. You’re face to face with somebody and there is no escaping.”

    Tatiana Vinogradova is a photographer based in Russia. You can follow her on Facebook.