Sergei Pavlov grew up in a small, landlocked town of 10,000 people called Somero in southern Finland. He discovered photography as a teenager and it became his escape from the boredom of his countryside existence. It didn't take him any closer to the artistic community in the beginning -- he started out working as a product photographer in a carpet factory. "Soon I realised that I'm more interested in people than carpets so I moved to Helsinki," Pavlov explains. In the Finnish capital he turned his camera on the city's LGBT scene.
"It was about two years ago that I moved to Helsinki from my small town a few hours away," Pavlov remembers. "Every now and then I'm amazed how interesting people are here. I feel that everyone has time for each other, and meeting up is really easy since the city is so small. There are quite a few gay bars, as well as that they arrange plenty of different LGBT events. The LGBT scene here is really welcoming, caring and humble, there's always room for everyone."
Pavlov himself is openly gay and happy, as he puts it, and the project became a way for him to reflect his growing sense of belonging to a community in the city. It was not his only aim however -- he also wanted to challenge the visual conventions of LGBT representation in photography. "I wanted to bring more diversity to how people see the LGBT scene", he explains. "I don't think it's all about the glitter and champagne as it seems to be in many images. So I decided to make a portrait series that felt natural and timeless."
The portraits Pavlov created are black and white and seemingly austere in artistic means with the main emphasis on the subject in the interplay of light and shadow. It echoes the classic portraits of Robert Mapplethorpe, they are seductive and empowering the same time. It's about trust and freedom as well, as Pavlov allows his subjects to fully determine and play out their own identities in front of his lens.
"Most of my portraits have a similar mood to them. I think I just want to portray how I see people in this world: independent, fragile, present and real. Nothing too set-up or pre-arranged. Beauty in ordinary things inspires me a lot. I just take things as they are and try to keep it real and down to earth," Pavlov adds. "I think the portraits are also really peaceful, since living as gay in Finland, it's really peaceful too, haha."
Pavlov's portraits, although not obviously, are also a reflection of priceless freedom and progress in terms of LGBT rights he sees in Finland. "Finland is doing better with LGBT rights all the time. There's still a lot of things that aren't quite okay yet, for example, there is a long way to go for trans and gender non-conforming people. Still I feel that we are going forward all the time", he says.
"It has been beautiful to see how Helsinki Pride has grown bigger and bigger every year, and also same sex marriage was finally approved by the Finnish government, thanks to the hard working people campaigning about it and creating a movement. One of the most beautiful things in Helsinki is that people have realised that we have the power, there are so many individuals working for human rights and uniting all of us together, it's just amazing and beautiful to see how we can make a change in the world we live in."
Text Anastasiia Fedorova
Photography Sergei Pavlov