We interviewed Slava Mogutin about his latest solo exhibition POLAROID RAGE and BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL on view through 22 November at Galerie Kernweine in Stuttgart.
You have been shooting Polaroid Rage for the past two years. What was it that gave birth to it as a project?
I started shooting Polaroids over two decades ago and have experimented with different film and cameras. In 2013 I had a two-person show with Maripol, one of my favorite Polaroid photographers ever. That’s when I came up with the idea of taping together individual pictures into a grid of four. I wanted to create multidimensional portraits from different frames, angles and perspectives. Two years ago I gave up my studio in Greenwich Village and spent most of the time traveling between New York, Los Angeles and Berlin—with my trusted vintage Polaroid camera as my main companion. I shot more portraits and nudes in the past two years than I did in the previous twenty, thanks to my nomadic life.
Where does your affinity for Polaroid come from?
Analog photography is my passion and I still prefer shooting on film. Unlike regular film, Polaroid doesn’t require chemicals or lab processing, it rewards you with instant results. It has a very distinct nostalgic, retro feel to it, the format hasn’t changed much since the late 60s when first commercial instant cameras were introduced. The moment of a picture developing in front of your eyes is magic, it’s very intimate and gratifying. It also allows you to be more flexible and precise in terms of subject matter and composition. People tend to be more open and comfortable being naked and sexual in front of a Polaroid camera knowing they can see the pictures during the shoot and make necessary adjustments or edits. I always take a lot of close-ups and compose them into different shapes, I call them human studies. The beauty of it is that every shot and angle is completely unique, and sometimes happy accidents happen—light leaks or film imperfections that make Polaroid pictures so compelling.
Your Berlin exhibition was cut short because of the pandemic. Was Stuttgart already on the map by then? What’s it like exhibiting there?
Stuttgart is a beautiful place, and it’s my second solo show at Galerie Kernweine, which is collectively run by a group of young creatives who became my good friends. My Berlin show was in March and the show in Stuttgart was initially planned for May, but we decided to postpone it until September. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the opening because of the travel restrictions, but I installed the show via video calls and did a virtual artist talk. I’m proud we made this show happen despite the pandemic, and it’s been getting a lot of great feedback.
What about Black Is Beautiful? Is it also a part of Polaroid Rage or an entirely separate project?
This series was created in response to Black Lives Matter, and its title comes from an early civil rights movement in the 60s that aimed to increase black visibility in American popular culture. Today black visibility remains as relevant and political as it was 60 years ago. I have been photographing people of color as long as I lived in the US. Black Is Beautiful is a survey of my work that goes back to my early days in New York, when I was shooting for my book NYC Go-Go with predominantly black and Latino models. I decided it was important to showcase these pictures as part of my show in Stuttgart in solidarity with the movement. It’s a celebration of black culture, black body and sexuality.
What is coming up next for your Polaroids?
Polaroid Rage is still a project in progress, and I’m just as passionate about it as in the very beginning of this journey. This year I’ve been shooting in Berlin and New York even under the quarantine lockdown. I’m now working on a book and several shows based on this series. This week a group show “Love My Way” opens at Villa Noailles in Hyères, France, and in November my Polaroids will be shown at Schwules Museum in Berlin as part of “Intimacy – New Queer Art from Berlin and Beyond” exhibition. My Polaroids are very much in demand right now, and it always makes me happy to send them to new places and homes.
Galerie Kernweine is proud to present POLAROID RAGE and BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL by the New York-based Russian-American artist Slava Mogutin. It’s his second solo exhibition in Stuttgart following the success of Lost Boys in 2018. In April 2019, Galerie Kernweine presented Mogutin’s work at Paper Positions art fair in Berlin.
POLAROID RAGE was shot over the past two years between New York, Los Angeles and Berlin and features portraits and nudes of Mogutin’s fellow artists and personalities that include artist and musician Genesis P-Orridge, musician Jordan Hall of Boy Radio, performance artists Nile Harris and Latex Lucifer, porn stars Buck Angel and Sean Ford, artists Brian Kenny and Luke Abby, Durk Dehner of Tom of Finland Foundation, and Mogutin’s girlfriend and muse, trans artist and model Maxima Cortina. This series was presented for the first time in Berlin in March as part of Mogutin’s solo show that had to be cut short because of the COVID pandemic.
BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL was created in response to Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality and systemic racism in the US. The series title comes from a cultural movement that was started in the United States in the 1960s by African-Americans and later spread beyond the US. Over two decades of his artistic career, Mogutin put people of color front and center in his photography and this show presents a brief survey of this large body of work. It includes images from Mogutin’s books NYC Go-Go (2008) and Bros & Brosephines (2017), as well as his more recent personal projects and commission shoots.
SLAVA MOGUTIN was born in Siberia and exiled from Russia at the age 21 for his outspoken queer writing and activism. A third-generation writer and self-taught journalist and photographer, he became the first Russian to be granted political asylum in the US on the grounds of homophobic persecution. Informed by his bicultural dissident and refugee experience, Mogutin’s work examines the notions of displacement and identity, pride and shame, devotion and disaffection, love and hate. He’s the author of seven books of writings in Russian and three photography monographs published in the US.
Galerie Kernweine Foto und Raum is a place for contemporary photography, visual media and discourse. We collaborate with artists to develop and curate exhibition projects that challenge classical approaches and expand established formats. Workshops and event formats on the topics of photography and visual media take place on an alternating basis. Next to the gallery you will find our GK shop, which focuses on limited editions, books, magazines and selected products. The GK cafe and bar are located in the gallery’s courtyard.
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Galerie Kernweine GmbH
D 70178 Stuttgart
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