In 1988, photographer Kevin Davies was sent to Moscow by French Glamour for a project on Russian youth culture. Evident by the varying ages of his subjects, Davies’ project became much more than an exploration of Russian youth but a documentation of life during the height of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika (meaning ‘restructuring or rebuilding’) and glasnost (‘openness’) reform – a period that would mark the last chapter of the Soviet Union.
Along with the French journalist Anna Kashia Natys, who he was working with on the project, Davies found himself accompanied by a government official in Moscow who was there to watch over and approve the content of their work – also making sure that Gorbachev’s bid for an ‘open’ democracy was kept intact at the same time.
But whilst the official was there as an acting censor, he sped up the process for Davies and Natys to travel through Moscow – “he even helped us jump the queues at McDonald’s”, says Davies. And when the time arose in which the pair could break free from the official, away from a rather relaxed government control, they took to Moscow’s streets (as well as a brief visit to Saint Petersburg) to capture a variety of artists, performers and other outsiders who were enjoying an increasing sense of freedom in Russia.
“All the images were taken outside,” says Davies. “Although it was winter, the subjects needed to be wearing clothes that reflected their art rather than clothes to protect them from the freezing cold.
“This meant taking a roll of film quickly, stepping inside to get warm and then repeating. This was awkward for the dancer on the balcony who was wearing a leotard. Also, at first a few people gathered on the street below... then more. After 15 minutes they asked me to look over the edge and about 40 people were gathered.
“The dancer said it was time to go as someone was likely to call the police.”