Pussy Riot – NYC Photo Shoot

Pussy Riot in New York CityI love the randomness of my job. I always get calls out of the blue from my editors to rush out of my apartment with a moment’s notice to photograph just about anything. Just this past week I was summoned to rush down to Soho where I was to connect with a reporter and find the two still-in-hiding members of Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk-rock collective based in Moscow.

I keep up in the news, so I was very aware of their collective and the prison sentences some of them are serving for their recent unauthorized provocative guerrilla performance inside a church to protest of the Orthodox Church leader’s support for Putin during his election campaign. After playing only for 40 seconds before security guards stopped them, three ended up being charged with hooliganism and sentenced to prison and two fled Russia to avoid prosecution.

This shoot was different from most for a number of reasons. First, my subjects were anonymous as the group members wear brightly colored balaclavas and use only nicknames during interviews. I was photographing Fara and Shaiba. When asked who was who, one responded, “It doesn’t matter”.

Pussy Riot in New York City

When I arrived, the two small girls were unmasked and very warm to myself and the writer.  They were crashing, at least temporarily, at someone’s home prior to the premiere of their HBO documentary at a nearby theater, which they ended up attended unmasked in secret. What an experience to have to sneak into their own premiere.

I was told by one of their handlers that it was imperative that we not photograph their faces because the Russian government was after them. At the beginning of the shoot, they only wanted me to photograph them while masked inside the elevator of the building. Because that seemed very limited, I asked if we could try quickly taking their portrait, masked, at street level, but they didn’t want to risk causing a scene on the street and getting tracked, especially since their documentary premiere was just a few blocks away. There’s a good chance they’d be recognized and cause a scene.

Pussy Riot in New York City

I ended up scouting the stairwell of the building where, at the top, I found a ladder to the roof of the building. I pitched the idea of climbing up to the roof so we could photograph them outside in the golden light. They liked the idea, so we climbed up and made some really cool images.

I really had a fun time with this shoot. The secretive nature of the shoot was exciting and it felt like I was part of something somewhat historical. Good times!

 

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