Shooting Young Moscow's Raw and Trendy Denizens

UnknownKaghado's photographs aim to capture his hip young subjects in as natural a pose as possible.
There are two young men on the expanse of white canvas. One wears sunglasses and a Ramones T-shirt, the other a sleeveless shirt, boxing hand wraps, and a Vans baseball cap. With their confident slouch, they are the epitome of cool, sporting the gestures, brands and attitudes of international youth culture.

As the youngest artist to exhibit solo at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Ja'bagh Kaghado is particularly well-placed to bring viewers into the vibrant world of Moscow's youth. In "Moskva Raw," he chronicles the city's trendiest denizens: musicians, performers, producers and students.

Kaghado's focus on the young and the new makes him unlike other Westerners, who come to Russia searching for "the retro Soviet element," said Zak Kaghado, Ja'bagh's brother and a curator of the exhibition, in a press release.

Instead, Ja'bagh, who came to Moscow five years ago, focuses on the cosmopolitanism of his subjects.

"What's cool about this generation is that you can't differentiate and say she's from Moscow or she's from Paris," Ja'bagh said, pointing to a photo of an elegant woman with a scarf. "You take her, you put her in Paris, she looks Parisian. The new movements with the music, the subculture. ... It's unifying the people."

And this is what his photos show: None of the subjects looks stereotypically Russian. There is no fur here, no overdone jewelry. The mostly black-and-white portraits flaunt tattoos, mussed hair and heavy eye makeup. In one photo, a young man matches a bowtie with jeans and pins. The photographs show a mishmash of styles, an avoidance of stereotypical labels.

On the exhibit's second floor, the subjects appear on the edges of wall-length white canvases. Some of the portraits get lost on the snow-like expanse, like that of a girl with a cherry-topped hat, her face cut in half at the bottom of a huge canvas.

However, in the bigger-than-life portrait of a blonde, the white canvas only highlights her confident pose: hand on a hip, black ruffled shirt, head tilted back.

At times, the subjects' imperturbable coolness and style seem less like art and more like the practiced polish of a magazine shoot -- especially as the photographs are all taken against a white studio background.

Ja'bagh, however, emphasizes that the portraits are not styled or retouched. Subjects choose their own clothing and their own poses. While Ja'bagh's previous photography experience was mostly for glossy magazines, he says this exhibit is fundamentally different.

"Models and actors, they try so much, it becomes fake," Ja'bagh said. "These guys know exactly how to stand, they know exactly how they want to be seen. ... It's real."

To make his subjects more comfortable in front of the camera, Ja'bagh said he likes to talk, scream or jump around.

"I'm just trying to capture that naturalism," he said. "I'm not trying to make them what they're not."

At the reception for the exhibition's opening, model-like women fanned themselves in front of the photographs, looking as if they'd stepped straight off the canvas. Stylish young people wandered through the white rooms, sipping on mojitos and nodding to the edgy trance music.

"Nowadays, young people cannot live without music," said Yekaterina Kuzmina, the coordinator of the exhibition for the museum. "When you come here, you can feel the artist's atmosphere, the music. ... This is what we live in now."

"Moskva Raw" runs to Sept. 7 at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, located at 17 Yermolayevsky Pereulok. Metro Mayakovskaya. Tel. 694-28-90. Tickets cost 100 rubles.