This new Petra Collins-inspired zine celebrates non-sexual nudity

With ‘To Be or To Become’, NY photographer Kristina Shakht explores the power of reclaiming one’s sexuality.

by Jenna Mahale
07 June 2021, 7:15am

Kristina Shakht

New York-based photographer Kristina Shakht describes the twenty-year period she lived as a young woman in Russia as “a rollercoaster of sexism and hate.” Though it may not be immediately visible, once you notice the virulent misogyny and its role in Post-Soviet culture, Kristina says, you can’t unsee it. “Patriarchy and abuse in any form will always exist,” she continues, “but in Russia this idea is considered radical for many people. I’m not even going to go into how many times I’ve heard ‘a girl has to’, or ‘you’re a girl, you can’t…’, or even degrading comments about my looks, my sexuality, my make-up.

Much of the photographer’s creative practice has centred on the themes found in the pages of To Be or To Become—self-identity, isolation, femininity and sexuality. She draws upon her fine art background for reference points, taking lessons from Greek statues and Botticcelli’s paintings, but also slavic fairy tales and mythology. Her contemporary influences, Carlota Guerrero and Petra Collins (“they are both very sensual but freaky in a very beautiful way”), are evident in the majority of her delicately surreal, femininity-focused images.

But for Kristina, the zine represents one of her most personal project narratives yet. She credits this newfound urge for vulnerable expression to, what else, the coronavirus crisis: “My work has become deeper and better during the pandemic, mainly because of all the time I spent alone, without society pushing me to socialise.” The quarantine period was, she explains, a kind of long-term creative retreat. “I feel like I changed in this past year, my work changed, so I just wanted to capture it. I’ve always wanted to make a book or a zine, so this is a first step in exploring physical ways to share my work with a bigger audience.”

To Be or To Become is Kristina’s way of reassessing her negative sexual experiences, particularly “the harassment that every woman experiences just because she exists, just because she walks down the street, and breathes”, but also the decisions one is faced with moving into adulthood. “It’s about the choice between staying the way you are, or becoming the woman society wants you to become: will you be molded by society or become someone who takes their own path?”

Spread of two black and white images of a nude model reclining on a bed
Two black and white polaroids of a silhouetted model, profile view and straight on
Colour polaroid of a model with long platinum hair looking into the sunlight
Black and white images of a flower and a polaroid of a nude model in shadow
Colour polaroid of a model hanging over a grey building
Spread of three colour images where a model with long platinum hair poses on stool
Black and white images of a flower and two polaroids of a model reclining
Colour images of a nude model on a rock beach and sunlit cliffs

To Be Or To Become is available for pre-order via