What does gay life look like in Moscow, or Berlin, or Tel Aviv?
Naked Buenos Aires
Shot in December 2018. 15 interviews, 35 photos in 52 pages.
Without Sin, There Is No Glamour – Fedya’s Naked Cities : Buenos Aires
Who wouldn’t like to be in Fedya Ili’s shoes – taking pictures of handsome naked men in great cities all around the world, then talking with the guys as well about their experiences as gay men in those cities?! I was fascinated with this concept from the moment I first learned about it. I then got in touch with Fedya and invited him to contribute to the German anthology “Mein schwules Auge / My Gay Eye” which I have been editing since 2006. The pictures he sent me were mostly taken in Buenos Aires, and amongst them was the perfect cover shot: a sexy bearded man wearing a funny crocheted bear cap that would look ridiculous on most men. However, oddly not on this very masculine Argentinian chap. You just want to meet him in person because he seems like such a fun, self-assured and modest guy. When I look at Fedya’s photos, I cannot help but wonder if they are all his lovers. These pictures are so intimate, but then there are so many of them. It’s kind of like how they used to say in San Francisco at the height of the gay movement: “So many men, so little time”.
The feeling of these photos and their corresponding interviews was not all that different from the stories of the men from Moscow, Berlin or Paris: it’s about self- acceptance, relationships, love, friendship and family. I would rather argue: if people – young and old, children and adults - never see two men kissing or holding hands in public, how can it become normal for them? It will always be extraordinary and potentially abnormal and threatening to them.
When I read these interviews there seems to be a certain schizophrenia: life for gay men in Buenos Aires looks both easy going and violent. A mix of the French joie de vivre and the aggressiveness of the Latin macho. I guess it may be the culture, and the gay men who were interviewed seem to take it simply as such. For myself, I find it a bit bewildering.
Fedya and I are both artists, editors and travellers. Like art gypsies, we work wherever we are staying, at any given moment. Fedya grew up in Russia and I was raised in West Germany, right on the French border. Fedya belongs to a younger generation, but we probably had to fight a lot of the same battles. Growing up as a gay youth in the seventies in West Germany wasn’t that easy either, but I guess we were both lucky to be creative and adventurous. Fedya wants to discover the soul of each city that he takes residence in, and he does so by placing his naked models in iconic public places that can easily be identified with the city in question. Often these buildings and places are grandiose, and almost exclusively they are beautiful – as are his models. I wonder what would happen if the models or the places were not so beautiful, just plain and normal? Or perhaps if they were older?
I am curious to see how Fedya’s project is going to continue and evolve.
artist, co-editor ‘Mein Schwules Auge’
I live with my mum and dad, just outside the capital. Every day I travel in a bus for two hours one way to get to my university where I study architecture.
My parents support me in everything that I do. I was a weird child, always dancing along to Madonna’s songs, cooking and drawing. My parents knew what was going to come next. I really love them so much.
One day, I started to tell them that I had met a guy, and they said, “this is lovely”. The society in my province is more conservative than in the city, though. One Sunday afternoon, I was walking with my friend, wearing
a short pink swimsuit. An old man approached us and said from out of nowhere, “why don’t you suck me off?”. I was completely shocked, and I thought to myself, “Why are you even asking me this? That is gross!”. I was honestly so surprised that I couldn’t say anything back to him. I think this was the first time I ever experienced an issue with being gay. Although it made me laugh, it was not so funny at the same time.
As a person, I fall in love with details, actions, emotions and passion. When I was younger, I often trusted too much in the people who told me they loved me. You don’t always have to use the word love.
I didn’t realize I liked men until I was 19 years old. I used to live in Mendoza, where you just follow the rules unconsciously. You can have laws which allow you to do things, but there are no laws about how and what people are thinking.
If you meet someone from Salta, there are people there who don’t even know how to read. Buenos Aires is this city which receives a lot of people from other countries, it is technologically advanced here and people are generally more accepting. Laws are made in Buenos Aires, not in Salta.
I call this a character because I’m not really a drag queen. I like to play with my appearance. Sometimes I like to look a bit more masculine, sometimes more feminine. I just want to break those boundaries.
People on the street, in a city like this specifically, are still not used to seeing a man wearing what they would perceive as women’s clothes. As a gay man, this is my statement – the message I’m trying to get across.
I want people to stop thinking about things as either fem or masc. If I wear a skirt or heels on the subway, have long hair, my face in makeup, or my nails painted, that doesn’t define anything except for me wanting to express myself. I try to maintain this daily, because the first time usually shocks people, and then they get used to seeing it the more often they see me. This helps people who are insecure and don’t do things because they are afraid, it encourages them to express themselves.
I have never been attacked. People say things to me, but it has never got to the point of getting hit. Now in Buenos Aires, we are trying to fight against this macho style, this violence. Perhaps sometimes a little bit too much, but I think it’s good to break these boundaries. Gay and trans people from the 80s and 90s suffered a lot more than we do. They did this for me, and now this is the least I can do to help in return.
I moved to the city this year to live together with Sonica, my drag mother. We have a great relationship. I found a job here a year ago. I’ve started to do more things using the time that I was losing travelling between here and home every day, really making the most of this time.
My parents and I, we don’t have problems. It’s okay, we have a good relationship. At first it was a little tough, though. It was weird to them because they were raised another way. I am very different from them – not only am I gay – I’m very queer. They have never been to my shows because they don’t really understand. I’ve tried to tell them about what I do, to share myself with them. They were interested at first, but now not so much because they don’t understand this culture. They know this is what makes me happy and they don’t ask much.
I have been verbally abused many times in my hometown, but it also happens here regularly. I don’t know why, but I also don’t give a shit.
I know who I am and I’m secure about myself. I don’t respond to insults and negative messages. I’m always with my friends when we go out. We take good care of each other. Even though there are laws that protect us as an LGBTQI community, there are still many people in society that don’t want to accept change. They don’t want to accept the fact that we can make decisions about our bodies, about what we want to be. This is what bothers society, that we can decide. They don’t want to accept that there is a change, and nothing will remain the same, because we are the generation that decides.
Shot in August 2018. 13 interviews, 15 guys in 52 pages. Presented with two covers.
Yes, I was a student at the Moscow State University.
Generally, this society is becoming more conservative or rather, more orthodox. The government can’t or doesn’t want to “deal” with the gay community. It won’t engage in dialogue and tries to create laws in order to shield itself from the concerns and dislike of the people. They (the government) are not worried about you having sex with the same gender or getting married to it. They worry only about potential alliances being formed that could pose a political threat to their rule. That is why public demonstrations are not an option – we can’t stand united. The present political power is trying to preserve itself by eliminating the competition, including protest groups as well as the gay community. The lack of community is a special feature of Russian culture, unless it is an artificially cultivated community. That’s why our society is so underdeveloped and that’s why any self-formed community is impossible in Russia.
...Want to make God laugh – tell him about your plans. On one hand I can’t be without a job. On the other I would like to live by the beach. That is why my plans are to have a job that can travel with me. I would like to buy a house in a village somewhere. But with how things are today, I keep on coming to the same conclusion that the house should be on the Lenin-Prospect (Moscow City).
I have been living in Moscow for a year. There is plenty of entertainment here for those who wish to waste their life away. All these “fun” places are easily accessible, unlike in towns outside of the Moscow Ring Road.
If you feel at home in Moscow, life is great.
...I belong to the category of people who do not want to move abroad. My life revolves around my personal life and my family. Five years from now, I wish for us to have our own place, settle down there, travel, experience adventure and simply lead a nice and stable lifestyle. I definitely do not want children. I do not support the idea of two men raising a child. Look at our gay community – not all people should have children.
...I flew to visit my mother a while back. We were sitting in the kitchen when I said, “Mom, I am living with another man.” She replied, “This is your life. Live with whomever you want.” And since then she has always been asking me how we are doing. She asked about my partner at the time and later about my new partner. She was very worried when my ex and I split up.
...Honestly, never in my life have I experienced any homophobia. Probably I have been very lucky. To a certain extent, I agree with the law about protecting children from being exposed to information on homosexuality. They should not be guided towards homosexuality simply because they may be curious. If it is inside a person, one will find their way to it regardless of their social upbringing and influences. I felt it in my essence. It did not occur to me when watching TV. I just realized at some point that I like guys.
Anton and Vladimir
Ever since I moved to Moscow 13 years ago, I never hid my sexual orientation. Neither in the office, nor on the street. I have been living next to my neighbours for about 8 years now. They are a young heterosexual couple and we are very good friends.
Should gay marriage be legalized in Russia? I don’t know what benefits that would bring. We are fine with how things are. We don’t necessarily need a stamp in our passports. I have no problem telling people that he
is my husband without all the paperwork. As for the hospital, then I’ll just be alone. If we decide to have a child, we will just make that happen. A marriage certificate would simplify my life only in an administrative
way and for legal purposes. It would not enforce any rules or protect our human rights.
...With gays, things are different. Today we have an amazing sex life. Four years from now, it vanishes. In five, we are just friends. So what’s the point? Throughout our whole lives, we would be getting married, then divorced, then married, then divorced. Of course, we want marriage but that’s because we can’t have it. If we could, that would be another revolution in the history of Russia. ...Sometimes we can hold hands at the movies and make out. People stare, whisper something to one another or throw a dirty look at us. That’s their problem.
...Russia will get there when our generation will be about 70 years old, when people born during the time of the Soviet Union are gone. My life’s philosophy is that I live here and now. We do have some short- term plans but starting something serious like buying an apartment, getting a dog or kids, that’s not our thing. We are just living and enjoying life.
Exhibited in 2019 in Berlin (The Ballery)
Naked Tel Aviv
Falling in love with your hometown. But the question is: are you part of the town or is the town part of you?
Sandro Kortekaas, Co-owner, Mooiman Art Gallery
Shot in July 2017. 5 interviews, 22 photos in 38 pages.
Tel Aviv is a city of paradoxes to me. It is full of opportunities, both wondrous and treacherous. Although I really miss my home, I have found everything I need here in Tel Aviv. I’m trying hard to make this my home too, though I don’t always succeed.
I’m constantly caught struggling between loving it here, and feeling unsuccessful, unwanted and like I don’t belong here. I remember a day
I was feeling the latter; I wasn’t sure what I was doing, if I was on the right path, and I was feeling lonely and isolated. A friend convinced me to get out of my apartment and we went to the beach for a morning swim. At the beach, I wound up running into another friend... and then another friend... and then another! I wound up staying until sunset, drawing warmth and nourishment from all those around me. It reminded me of one of my favourite things about living here: it’s such a small city that you can always expect to run into friends, from different areas of your life – everyone goes to the beach!
I love this city. Everything is possible here. On the other hand it’s a very intensive place, you have to live fast, be in a rush all the time. I was born in Jerusalem. I didn’t feel that it’s okay to be gay. It was very hard for me to accept it. But I found a job close to Tel Aviv and moved there. I started going out and seeing guys holding hands on the streets, discovering the gay community around me. That made me feel okay, I’m not weird or different, there are other people like me. That time I came out.
Shot in April 2016. 14 interviews, 28 polaroid images in 46 pages.
In 2015 Fedya Ili published the catalogue ‘Naked Petersburg’, containing both intimate photographs and statements of the people portrayed, which mirrors the contemporary social environments in St. Petersburg, Russia. In the new catalogue, ‘Naked Berlin’ is following the same concept. The statements aren’t that different from those of the Russian men. Obviously the treacherous security of one of Europe’s gay capitals, Berlin, is about to abscond. The dystopia of the gay mens community is noticeable. The artist threw a cast shadow of a random situation at the present. And he had chosen men, who are usually not in the focus of glitter and glamour of todays lifestyle mags and portals.
The artist’s sensibility, a rarely found instrument of today artists, grants these portraits a reliability, not only in terms of the artistry. The artist becomes a chronicler of social environments.
This project will be continued: In the second half of 2016 there will be published the 3rd catalogue, this time with portraits of men living in the French capital. ‘Naked Paris’ will be the next impressive testimony of Fedya Ili.
I’ve lived here for 3 months. I know the city from before, but only for partying. And Berlin has more than that, so many cool places and culture. I’ll stay here until November and then I’m going to make a short world tour. I love to travel and I hate winter, and in November winter starts.
I can’t say where am I in a few years. Maybe I go to London next week and live there. Who knows. My aim is to work as a stylist but I cannot say, maybe in the future I want to do different things in the fashion industry, but I’m not sure. So I keep my mind open. Vienna has not lived to my expectations. Berlin has more open people, more sex. And it is the city where you can find some good sex, plenty of sex and varied sex. Being gay here is really easy. It was nice to live in Vienna for seven years, but now I need different people. And I never had any troubles here or in Vienna. No people are confused with my sexuality. And I don't live gay life, really ‘normal’ gay life.
I ended up in Berlin by accident – I just wanted to visit a friend but I stayed. I am happy to be here. No reason to leave yet. I dream of becoming a bigger star. I love my job and what I can achieve with it. Back then when I was living in Bavaria I was always that ‘strange gay boy’, talking way too much, especially in inappropriate situations. But now I can use this quality to bring joy to the people. Being on stage, talking nonsense, making 300 people laugh is a very special feeling. Sometimes I start to cry while dj-ing because there are very touching moments. You put on one single song and the whole place is freaking out. Wonderful. The city helped me to become who I really am. I think that’s another reason why I do not want to leave. I have a lot of possibilities, maybe more as in other places. I see no reason in hiding who or what I am. Sometimes, when I’m in drag, it so happens that people have the need to scream ‘faggot’ or ‘Scheißtranse’ when they see me. And I’m like ‘Yes. Right you are. But hey: I knew that already. Thank you anyway’. Maybe they need to hear that they are stupid or assholes because I think they are NOT aware of what they are. Every problem with homophobia is a real problem because it is here. It is reality. And me being who I am, standing for what I feel, might be a little part in a new world where love is just love.
This is the first time I've lived on my own. I’ve never lived alone before. So my goal is to be independent financially, more stable, to find a proper job in architecture. I don’t think I’m ready for any new relationships. But I need company, a good friend, somebody I can spend time with. I don’t really have close friends. It is really hard to make friends here. I feel as if for white people it’s much easier.
I made a trip to Germany in 2012 and met him then. After we visited each other twice a year. And the only way we can stay together was to get married. And we did it in Berlin, when I came here again a year and a half ago. We had a small wedding, like 30 friends, most of them from his side. I had only 4 friends of mine. My parents couldn’t join because they work for the government. We rented a boat and had a small wedding on the boat. And I was very happy, we never lived together and immediately got married. I was nervous and thought it won’t work. And now my worries came true. He is German. We have different lifestyles. He prefers to stay at home and I like to discover the city and go out. He is 46 and cannot be changed already, he knows what he wants. We had to follow his rules. Last year the life that I dreamt crashed. Nothing stable. You can’t be sure about anything.
Once, we were at Görlitzer Bahnhof. And because we were holding hands, some drunk people on the platform spoke to us: ‘Do you fuck each other?’, something like that.
‘Naked Paris’ – black and white analogue portraits and interviews of Parisians. Each person tells the story of his relationship with the city, posing undressed on the streets of Paris – revealing the soul and beauty of their personal connection.
Shot in May 2016. 11 interviews, 24 photos in 38 pages.
Paris is the city of love. She is this gorgeous lady with a classic and ageless charm, with her Haussmann buildings and her cobblestone streets which seem to have been made for romantic wanderings. There is, however, another side of hers yet to discover. The bright damsel can act cold and distant to her new lovers. As if you have to earn the right to walk along her streets. Making friends proves difficult, circles are already made and closed, people are not engaging. The struggle is real. The spleen of Paris, the grey of Paris. Think of the metro, this lively and adventurous maze will in no time become the obnoxious, introspective and sad experience we probably all share. And it is really painful to swallow the sorrow caused by this complicated love.
Yes Paris, I love you. I wish the best for you. I want to cure you. I want your people to laugh all day. I want your rainy days to put a smile on their faces. I want your hectic lifestyle to be joyful, not stressful. I want you to be bright.
Often, the blame is placed on the ‘Parisians’. Some ungraspable entity made of folks of all places and backgrounds. Some have lived here all their lives, while others have come for a lover, a future, a dream: full of hope. Who are they, these so-called Parisians that take the blame? They are you and I, they’re every one, and they’re no one in particular. They are the people settling in the city. And they are open, craving for new friendships, holding onto bags full of dreams. These dreams remain behind the walls we all build to protect ourselves from rejection. I believe that we should stop picturing a cold Parisian crowd – instead of looking at Parisians as a global picture, we should look at them individually. They are individuals trying to survive, holding onto vivid dreams, seeking human warmth.
Naked Paris is about digging into the core of people and capturing humanity. Through photos and interviews, we encounter unique individuals’ modern love stories with Paris. We are able to glare at their natural beauty while they expose their naked bodies and souls out in the streets. This is what I’m fighting for. Even if I inspire just one person to reflect on himself and his life, I would consider myself successful. Maybe this could lead to more and more Parisians opening up. I believe we could make Paris a city of love not only in name. We can start a revolution: I’ve heard ‘Frenchies’ are good at those.
Paris is a monster but you always have something to do. My first months here were really crazy. Because I was always outside, I slept 2-3 hours a night. And with parties, alcohol and drugs you have to be careful. I live in the center of Paris, where you can do what you want. For 16 years, before moving here, I was really relaxed with a calm life outside of Paris. The house and pets – that kind of laid back, traditional vision of couples. Now I am trying to make a new life, to find new sensations. I just need to balance all the exciting things, to just enjoy life, be in love, and that’s all.
I don’t think I could leave Paris. Because each time I go to this or that place here, there is always something amazing. And I like the life in Paris. But I think my future is really very simple – just to be in love, to be close to my family and my friends. I don’t need too much money, just some travel sometimes and that’s all. And maybe I’ll have a child. I don’t know. I’m 41, so maybe in 2 or 3 years, I’ll have something with a good guy.
The new law about gay marriage 3 years ago was very hard for me because the entire gay community discovered that the French are not so open-minded. We always have to be careful with everything we have because one day we could lose it, like the freedom to love a man or a woman. When I’m holding my boyfriend’s hand on the street, sometimes people make negative remarks. But, I approach them and tell them directly to treat us with respect.
I’m back in Paris to start all over again. The first time was not really a commitment. I just passed through, got a few jobs and had fun. The second time worked out better – I met someone and became an actor. But then I decided to leave Paris because I didn’t want to live here anymore. We began building something new in Brittany. Things evolved. Now this is the third time. For me, Paris is the place where anything can happen. You can always meet new people and have new opportunities. One thing I really want is for a novel I’m writing to be published. Writing is my commitment.
I don’t want to be anywhere else. I never get tired of Paris. I don’t do much. I don’t go out much on the gay scene. Sometimes to bars. But I never get tired of this city. At the same time, I don’t have many friends: about 5 here in Paris, but precious ones. It’s not easy to make them here. ‘Me time’ is important for me, so that takes up quite some time. I came out when I was 19. At the time in France, it was not easy, but it was possible. It is easier now. People generally just don’t care, but professionally, it was a big issue. At my job, once they discovered that I was gay, they found legal excuses to fire me. The boss was a lesbian from the old generation. She hated gays. You can be gay and homophobic. That’s a fact. That was the main reason I lost my job.
My life changed. Actually, my brother did not win his fight against the disease. Ever since, I haven’t been the same. I do not see life as before. I learn little by little to live with... or rather without. I know that every day that passes is a chance we get to fulfil our dreams, to live life as we have always wanted. My brother always believed very strongly in me, especially in my chances as a model.
Recently, I agreed to a few casting calls, had some pictures taken, and I’ve also been working out to put the odds on my side! So yes, one of my ambitions is to succeed as a model, to give everything to my brother, so he is always proud of me. I still see his eyes when he told me all the good he thought of me, and I melt. I imagine myself in a musical. This exercise helps me, and makes me feel better.
My life-long dream is to start a family because having a nice and loving family is just incredible luck. If I had to keep one goal in my life, it would be to create my own family.
A master of portraits, Fedya Ili beautifully pairs the sights of the city of St. Petersburg with a revealing look at it’s men, while offering us a glimpse of their outlook and the issues they face as gay men in Russia today.
Billy Mecca, Founder & Creative Director, Summer Diary Project
Shot in August 2015. 15 interviews, 30 photos in 38 pages.
Of course I would prefer to live in warmer climate like Barcelona. And I like my job, so would continue doing something similar there. But to say the truth, I don’t have any exact plan.
I want to be happy. Want to have a man in my life who gives me a bunch of lovely moments. Live in pleasure and be able to see the world.
I plan to spend a few years here to develop my creativity, and then try to move further to European or American theatre.