Slava Mogutin’s Polaroid Rage

A Polaroid is a unique photographic document. Each one is a material fact describing what the artist found interesting and beautiful to record. The use to which Slava Mogutin puts the instrument is to document his queer friends—artists, models, porn stars, art world luminaries and people he encountered at Fire Island and Riis Beach.

The subjects share a common thread. They are often gender transgressive—many, as he describes them, are “people on the fringes of society, marginalized lives and souls that don’t have objective representation in contemporary culture.”

Slava is generous in his vision. His pictures, taken together, provide a quilt or mosaic, most often made of grids of four of the same subject to create a world which he uniquely inhabits. Slava acknowledges the artists he admires from whom he has drawn inspiration. Echoes of Andy Warhol, Peter Hujar, David Hockney, and David Wojnarowicz can be found within the body of work.

One finds both innocence and a sense of bravado in these portraits—a dare to the viewer to suspend judgement about what one sees and thinks about the subject. And when we suspend judgement, we see people representing a more diverse and broad humanity than we see in our casual ordinary experience. – Tom Bianchi

Why did you choose to work with Polaroids for this specific project? What was the idea behind the project? And how do you interpret the title you gave it?

Slava Mogutin: I’ve been working with Polaroids for over 20 years, and experimented with different types of cameras and film. I prefer analog photography to digital, and Polaroid is such an iconic medium. It’s also ideal for traveling and documentation. I started shooting Polaroid Rage about 3 years ago while spending a lot of time traveling between New York, Los Angeles and Berlin. It’s a very sentimental and poetic series.

What was it about the project itself that fit the nature of this specific medium? And why in sets of 4?

SM: For me structure is always more important than content, and this format informed the composition and overall concept for this series. Combining different pictures of the same person, I create a multidimensional portrait. Every Polaroid picture is unique but together they supplement and complement each other in a very dynamic way.

Do you remember how many Polaroids you actually shot? Do you feel there was a closure or is it still an ongoing project?

SM: It’s hard to say, I’m bad with numbers and I don’t count my pictures. Must be hundreds if not thousands. Of course, not every picture ends up being published or shown but all of them are time capsules in their unique way.

How did you choose the people you wanted to photograph? What do they represent?

SM: I always prefer to work with friends—fellow artists and people I meet while traveling or doing shows. I document queer community, and I was fortunate to capture many fantastic artists and personalities like Allen Ginsberg, Quentin Crisp, Genesis P-Orridge, Lydia Lunch, Bruce LaBruce, Gus Van Sant, Edmund White, Durk Dehner, Buck Angel, Sophia Lamar and Cassils. I learn from the queer elders and champion the queer youth.

Have you exhibited this project? Will you be exhibiting this project eventually? Or publishing it in a book? 

SM: I did several shows based on this series. Last year my Polaroids were shown at The Ballery in Berlin, Galerie Kernweine in Stuttgart and Villa Noailles in Hyeres, France. This year they were on view at Schwules Museum as part of the exhibition Intimacy: New Queer Art from Berlin and Beyond. I’m preparing a book dedicated to this body of work, and it’s still very much a work in progress.

This is the Utopia theme. How do you define Utopia? What does this word bring to mind?

SM: In my art I create Queer Utopia where people of different walks of life coexist peacefully without social, religious or political divides, without binary system or patriarchy or gender and identity politics. I started out as a poet, and I’ve always believed in the power of poetry and art to change the world for the better. At the time when most people are disillusioned with politics, artists and poets have a very important role to play in our society. I love playing this role.

Slava Mogutin for Dreck Magazine UTOPIA, November 2021

Artwork © Slava Mogutin, @slavamogutin