"To me, punk rock is freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be succesful, freedom to be who you are. It's freedom."
While the punk movement’s glory days seem to have come and gone in the United States, being a punk in many countries including Russia is considered an affront to the nation.
In the summer of 2013, I traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia for a weeklong photo workshop with the intention of unraveling the reality behind the group Pussy Riot’s infamous performance piece that put them behind bars. During this period, I serendipitously met a group of young male punk youth who surprised me with their warmth, hospitality, and “gentleness” as they welcomed me into their raucous world. While I had originally set out to document the “real punks” of Russia, I became less interested in their punk rebellion than in their likeness to me—discontented and ignored millennials navigating a noisy and digital globalized world with a surprising amount of sensitivity.
The powerful shared human experience of simply being young hit home when one day, one of my subjects Sasha “Lumpen” offered me a vegan plate of “Belarusian” potatoes and with a reassuring gaze said to me in broken English, "don't worry, we're gentle punks." Just like that, I was no longer the photographer or the “American girl” but a fellow twenty-something lost in our two country’s combative politics.
These young people’s interest in the global Occupy movement, in world peace, and their frustration with not being heard, while complicated by their political backdrop, are no different than the global cry heard all over the world by youth in crisis. Their story of discontented youth is one heard all over the world and one I hope to continue documenting. If not in Russia, in unsuspecting countries and places like Colombia, Indonesia, South Africa, Burma, and even East Los Angeles where young people are tapping into their anarchic energy despite the enormous risks they face from oppressive regimes and rapid urbanization.
While I haven’t been back to Russia since photographing these young people, part of me will always channel the spirit of a gentle punk: just a young voice fighting to be heard.