Ones to Watch 2021: Kristina Rozhkova

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Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of 20 emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 450 nominations. Collectively, they provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Throughout the next few weeks, we will be sharing profiles of the 20 photographers, originally published in the latest issue of BJP, delivered direct with an 1854 Subscription

A fascination with the body and whimsical yet precise process characterises Rozhkova’s work

Capturing corporeality compels the St Petersburg-based philosophy student Kristina Rozhkova. “I like to think of the body metaphorically, as a signifier, and as an object in space,” she says. “I like exploring its plasticity, its physical limits, and trying to capture its movement in a still image.” Though conceptually driven, a sense of spontaneity and playfulness also guides her projects: she describes photographing her models as a kind of “game”. The resulting images cast bodies as paradoxical sites of play and power, intimacy and transgression.

The 24-year-old artist grew up in Perm, Russia, and started photographing friends and acquaintances from the city’s “alternative scene”, often naked, after a friend gifted her a camera. The work anticipated Rozhkova’s fascination with the body, her self-described “intensity” while photo-making, and her whimsical yet precise process. Both Rozhkova’s approach and aesthetic compelled Izabela Radwanska Zhang, editorial director of British Journal of Photography, to nominate her for Ones to Watch. “Kristina has an impeccable talent for storytelling and narrative,” says Radwanska Zhang. “She uses her lens to explore themes of memory and nostalgia, leaning on her imagination, texture and colour to form subtle expressions and drama in her images.”

© Kristina Rozhkova.
© Kristina Rozhkova.

Rozhkova’s first significant project, published in The Calvert Journal, explores dachas: holiday homes in the Russian countryside. “Dacha was born out of a summer I spent with my friend Anastasia in the countryside of the Perm region, living at her summer house,” she explains. “I tried to capture the intimacy and simplicity of the quotidian rhythms and rituals of that summer country life.” However, Rozhkova’s images are far from idyllic. Instead, they document a different kind of intimacy: a sink splattered with blood, a dog’s mouth stretched open to reveal its incisors. Though chilling at times, the photographs are always more offbeat than dangerous, subverting the “charged, almost ritualised” culture surrounding dachas.

Dacha inspired Rozhkova to continue photographing country life in Russia, particularly throughout the Ural region, where she grew up. She is currently working on a project, tentatively titled Girls, which follows the lives and relationships of youngsters living in a village outside Perm. The place, also home to her parents, is small with only four or five families residing there full-time. “I met my models by accident. Their dynamic immediately compelled me. It’s almost like they have a special secret language,” reflects Rozhkova.

© Kristina Rozhkova.

Unlike Dacha, the images in Girls are muted and uncluttered, rendered in soft black-and-white. There is a surprising seriousness, almost maturity, to the girls, in part because Rozhkova takes them seriously as subjects. “My models were initially very suspicious. I had to prove myself before they accepted me and allowed me to glimpse into their friendship… Witnessing these intimate moments and capturing them with my camera is like being part of this secret club.”

Alongside Girls, Rozhkova is working on a project about the BDSM scene in Russia, to which she belongs, and a project “loosely devoted to the fetishisation of the body and various objects of carnal and sexual desire, acts of intimacy and aggression”. As in all her work, these images straddle shades of exuberance and danger, centring the body as a site of constant negotiation.

Nurit Chinn

Nurit Chinn is a playwright and freelance journalist. A recent graduate of Yale University with a degree in English Literature, Nurit has published work in Wallpaper* Magazine, Off Assignment, and the Yale Daily News.