Ultimate Catharsis: A therapeutic photo zine by Kristina Shakht

Art — 07.07.21

Editor: Inbar Levi
All images by Kristina Shakht

‘To be or to become’ is a new photo zine photographed by NYC-based photographer Kristina Shakht. Her ongoing personal struggle with body image and her idea of beauty are both vividly present in this zine. With a background in fine art and jewelry design, Kristina managed to portray her women in comforting hues, proving power can be gentle and soft.

Nude is our most natural state. We come to this world nude and leave it nude and in between, we fight the urge to just be nude all the time. We spend a lot of energy and resources on covering up. What does nudity symbolize for you?

I don’t think that it symbolized something specific. I shoot what I shoot just so women can see themselves differently, to reframe negative experiences with the body that we all have. Body is just a body for me. And I want to show it without fetishizing and sexualizing women in front of my camera. Because first of all, they are just people. I don’t want it to be kinky – I want it to be liberating. Back in Russia – where I lived for 20 years – imagery like this would be considered shocking, and it is still like that even in some of the western world.  I feel like with my recent art and photography I’m just breaking out of that.

I chose photography to talk about issues and for people to look at themselves. You can see through my imagery what I think about women so I’m just showing it to the world. If sexism and misogyny weren’t an issue I would be talking about some other problems that would affect me. Body and relationship with the body, womanhood in general are something that is close to me, something that I can accurately talk about and start a conversation.


Your photos remind me of ceremonial preparation almost like getting ready to get naked. Since you didn’t have your models in a natural mode, they were staged, and you had their hair and make-up done, what kind of feeling were you trying to embody? 

Rawness, freedom, self-love. The images are staged, that’s true. But I always try to stage them naturally. We never do anything that a model doesn’t want to do. We never do anything that’s uncomfortable.


Your women are very enigmatic and there is a hint of resemblance to some Renaissance paintings. Are you influenced a lot by art? If so, which artists have influenced you?

I have a fine art background and I love art in general. I really love Botticelli and ancient Greek and Roman statues – the way marble drapes, the way it looks. A lot of my images are inspired by the images and collections of the Hermitage Museum that I saw growing up.


As a survivor of a sexual assault, how has making your work and creating this zine helped you to heal from your past trauma? And in your opinion, what message are you giving the viewers with this body of work?

I have a very intense relationship with my own body. Not because of sexual assault (but probably that too) but because I have panic and eating disorders and studying the body in a way grounds me. I’ve gained weight in the past year and it’s the first time when I’m aware of a fine line between being healthy and relapsing because of the feeling that I’m losing control. The zine was far beyond living through my trauma; it was more about having fun, making something beautiful that will inspire others, and collaborating with people who I respect and love.


How do you feel about the use of sexuality in art and fashion within the industry today?

I feel like it will be getting better and is already getting better with more women on set behind the camera and in decision-making positions such as producers and art/creative directors. There’s still a long way to go but I love that I see more images by women for women. I’m happy that brands are doing more campaigns with trans women and in general the conversation is more open than it was 10-20 years ago.


You seem to emphasize femininity in your images, have you also explored photographing a variety of different representations of gender or are you focused on women only?

If you look at my work before august 2020, I was shooting a lot of different models. At the moment, I’m more focused on women and femmes because I’m one myself and I feel like I can tell this story in an accurate way that will not be a mockumentary. I feel like a lot of men are trying to pursue this look of femininity in fashion or art photography but it’s just not their story to tell.


Where do you see your work and yourself in a decade from now?

Hopefully being more successful, solo shows, shooting for brands, several books/zines. Same things I have now but more global and expanded. Today I’m really excited that we made this zine, that it’s our statement, our artistic expression.

You can purchase Kristina Shakht’s zine ‘To Be or To Become’ here and stay up-to-date with new releases via Instagram.