Russian Blogosphere Up and Close: Bloggers Portraits in Classy Black-and-White

From the onset a web-based project by the Russian photographer Kirill Kuzmin has been attracting a lot of attention from bloggers and readers alike. The aim of the project, artistically titled Bloggers’ Portraits in Black and White, is to discover and showcase the best talents of the Russian blogosphere, going beyond the so-called “top bloggers”.

To acknowledge the importance of the project, one needs to understand the peculiarity in how blogging and Social Media have been developing in Russia in the last 5 years. In the English-speaking part of the planet Google and Facebook are unquestionable leaders, but for the sake of fair play Yahoo!, Bing, Twitter, and the like still have their word to say, as well. This is especially true for blogging: WordPress may be the most popular or most recommended platform, but TypePad, Blogger, Twitter, Posterous, and Tumblr have their share of happy users.

Turn to Russia, and you will find a single most popular search engine – Yandex, and a single most popular blogging platform – LiveJournal. It does not mean that there are no Russians who use Google or WordPress. However, if we consider building a community as an overall important trait of Social Media, blogging included, then it makes every sense to have an account where every other Russian has – with LiveJournal, that is.

The rub is that Google AdSense (and its copycat, Yandex Direct) has lost a bit of its glamour, but the idea of monetising blogging has proved massively popular. So popular, in fact, that the above mentioned “top bloggers” often write for cash. It may be a payment for a post, or a payment to rise to the top in Yandex’s listings. If they do not write for cash, they blog on the subjects that always attract a lot of comments: models’ looks (fat/thin, make-up/no make-up), relationships, sex (including specific body parts), politics, certain personalities from Arts and Culture sphere, etc. Whatever takes the author to the top goes, in short. Sadly, as a result a lot of worthwhile, interesting blogs written by expert authors rarely show up in the Top 10.

The project originated exactly from the disappointment with such state of things. Bloggers who were interviewed and photographed included a ballet expert, an icon painter, a professional cello player, an intrepid citizen journalist, psychologists, cooks, fellow photographers, writers, and even an expert in playing cards.

This is not the first time Kuzmin attempted to defy the perceptions and to show the ‘human’ face of an otherwise alien phenomenon. On one of the previous occasions he spoke to and photographed the so-called Gaestarbeitern – workers from the former Soviet Republics who come to Moscow to earn money to support their families and whom Muscovites themselves often despise. In Bloggers’ Portraits, he deftly deploys photographing techniques to capture intimate, unexpected face expressions and gestures. In doing so, he brings out a person’s true self: a contemplative in one, an eccentric in another, a passionate in the third.

Bloggers’ Portraits by Kirill Kuzmin arrives to a more or less the same point as Mario Cacciottolo’s Someone Once Told Me project. While in the second we get to see a particular phrase that may or may not have shaped a person’s life, in the first we do not always hear the phrase but we do see the person as he or she were shaped. And here the ability of the black-and-white film, with its emphasis on light and shadow, to reveal the hidden gems and corners stands unrivalled. The ballet critic, although a buxom lady, reveals grace in her posture; a man and wife, both journalists, brim with tenderness and mischief; an icon painter agrees to play with her long black hair; another journalist poses as a gullible tourist, complete with a Polaroid in his hands; and a female writer agrees to pose with a whip.

We thus get to see the face of the Russian blogosphere as it is likely to be: not the confident, professional smiles of “top bloggers”, but the more modest and more open physiognomies of the less prolific, or less popular, yet no less expert guys and gals. Bloggers’ Portraits may one day acquire a place at the gallery, but so far you can see those who make the difference on the Russian blogging scene online.

(Although the project is presently in Russian, you can already enjoy the photos).

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