The future is unpredictable, but it is undoubtedly a game of survival that time scampers along side so hastily, with the intense longing for what could be. Based in Zurich, unsigned Russian born boy Danil Pogonchik is the devoted friend you can always rely on in times of need. At the age of 17, he is faced with impending pressures and rooted values of society on a day to day basis, in which he liberally and freely escapes from with his passion for skateboarding, taking his mind off the brooding cruelness of reality.
Photographer Nicole Barbosa captures Danil in deep touch with his feelings, as he opens up his bare and determined mind, expressing thoughts on mental health, finding yourself and the struggles of being young in todays society. With his rule-breaker, boundary pusher attitude and his laid back, yet modern style, accompanied by polish illustrated nails - Danil declares his thoughts by design. He doesn’t care for society standards and he is in no way apprehensive to let his peers know.
Emotions are something of a wonder to the youth, the mind tries to comprehend how to process surreal feelings of happiness, sadness and all the other endless emotions that consumes us. The way to cope is sometimes letting your mind be like waves, freely to let them go, and to let them come back when needed. As coping mechanisms we hold onto what bit of innocence and humanity we have left, often catching ourselves in a nostalgic hold that wants what used to be, in which vulnerability and dependence often become a part of evolving. Growing up means being who you are, being yourself and accepting, but also embracing others with the same acceptance that is true for them.
In our indepth chat with Danil below, he has those grounding words of wisdom that is helpful for us all to hear.
I wanted to start out by asking, who is Danil?
That’s a hard question, because I usually get the opinion on me from other people. I don’t really know 'who am I?' I am human I guess.
That’s a good start, being human.
I’d say that I’m more open with people I know, but I’m shy with other people. At the same time I’m very open to getting to know new people. I’m a person with high morals - my parents has always educated me to respect women, and I love to help people, it actually helps me too.
What kind of ways do you help people?
I’m ready to do the thing the person needs so that they feel better, but it depends on the person and how close I am to them. I won’t always be as open as this, I'm not ready to help a person I barely know or don’t like. Very close friends for me are something really special, I probably have only a few people I could call friends, because for me a friend is someone who I really trust and who I really have a connection with.
You were talking about morals from your parents, what kind of values have they instilled on you when you were a child?
Respecting your elders, respecting women - especially because for me I hate seeing how boys treat girls nowadays. I’m very shy, so I’m not like all those fuck-boys. It kind of frightens me to see all those people and how society has become like that.
Would you call yourself a feminist?
I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, first of all I don’t really want to attach myself to one group of people. Other people see me as a feminist, but I am there for their rights - women should be treated equally and this is not what has happened in society for a long time. If we're talking about equality right now, we can still see that there are huge differences in how women are treated, compared to how men are treated, salaries, everything.
How would you define masculinity?
To me it’s stupid how people are still kind of conservative. The way people are thinking you have to have muscles to be masculine, you have to be certain things. It's more that you can do what you want and not be afraid of being what you want, to not be ashamed of a thing you like, because other people will judge you for doing something.
Is that something you feel pressured with in terms of being judged?
At some point, like two or three years ago, I had a big change in my life, and it simply started with me not caring what people actually think about me. If I want to bleach my hair, I'll bleach my hair. If I want to paint my nails, I'll paint my nails. All this even if so many friends of mine are like; 'you’re gay'. I don’t really care, I do whatever I like, I do whatever I want. Other's opinions don’t really mean a lot to me, but I would say that the opinions of close people actually matter to me, not the opinions of people who aren't so close to me.
Like your peers?
Yeah, for example not in this situation, because this isn’t something serious. You try painting my nails, nothing is going to change, only the colour of my nails.
What’s it like where you’re living at the moment in Switzerland?
In the city every girl and every Swiss boy are the same. Everyone has the same shoes, everyone has the same jackets, same hair, same nails, everything - it’s pretty sad to see this.
You're from Russia originally, when did you move over to Switzerland?
Six years ago, I first lived in Geneva for three years and now it’s my third year in Zurich.
How would you say you found the cultural differences?
Russia is a totally different country, so when I go there it seems really weird and I’m not used to it anymore. I still go there every year, every summer to see my grandmothers and the rest of my family, because all my family live there. It kind of hits me that people in Russia are not as polite and are not as open as in Switzerland, like saying thank you and everything. It's just different and in Russia it’s a different country, so you can’t really compare, It's totally different in cultures, in everything.
What are you passionate about?
Since I was young I played music. I played a lot of different musical instruments, but the main ones were pretty much drums and I have a drum set downstairs at home. I don’t take any lessons anymore, because I don’t have time and I didn’t really find a good school in Zurich, so I stopped. I really miss it, I really miss playing real drums. I skateboard as well, it’s a very important thing for me, because it’s actually the thing which allows me to escape. When I feel bad or I have problems, when I go and skate, my mind is totally free and I actually don’t think. I forget about any of the problems, and I don’t think about good things or bad things, I just concentrate. The fact that I’m skating allows me to forget about everything in life and just go have fun.
Nicole mentioned that you had been through some tough times?
Thank you for sharing that with me, I know it’s very personal.
Yeah, I had very bad depression at the beginning of the year. I don’t know why I had it, but it happened. I was at the point of where the only thing which actually kept me alive was the fact that I was scared to hurt close people around me by killing myself. I was asking myself lots of questions, I guess it’s what lots of people do, but I never really got it like this. I just didn’t know what to do, because I really didn’t know why was I there. I didn’t know what the point of life was. I still don’t really know. I mean I want to have fun, and I want to live my life the way I want, but school and all this. I have to go to university and all these things are just - I don’t get any good emotions from school, except the fact that I have friends there, but I would rather see them outside of school. I had never talked to anyone about it before, so I just lived with it by myself. I don’t know how we came to the conversation, but somehow I talked about it with my parents - so I was just there crying and my parents were crying as well. Seeing that was really hard.
No, no I can share it, and the thing that revived me was when my parents told me that I’m going to have a little brother. I was crying, I was smiling, I had so many emotions - I thought; 'I still have to live, so I will just go through the day, what I have to do every day'. To go school, even if I didn't get good emotions or anything. That's what I kept doing until around three weeks later when I had a big mental breakdown. I had an exam, but I was so dead that I just couldn't go there and I stayed in the foyer at school, and a person from school came to me and he was like; 'are you in the exam', and I couldn’t hold my tears, so I just explained everything to him.
Do you think that growing up today a lot of people in your generation feel the kind of struggles that you have had?
It’s the small steps. You mentioned you talk to your friends and parents about emotions, do you think that being a boy today you have more freedom to express your vulnerability?
Yes, lots of people. First I talked about it to some close friends, and then I asked other people I know. I realised that I am not the only one who actually lives like this. It’s definitely scary, because so many people go through this. I don’t really get why, what’s the problem? I guess it’s mostly because of school, because of what we’re doing and the stress we're getting. I don’t really get why in school the most important thing is still the fact that we should have good grades. They have a 100 percent school, at the end of the year everyone has their exam, it’s the exam you have to take to go to university afterwards. My school is a private school and they want to keep the 100 percent exam. It means they can expel other students for having bad grades and I think it is not normal that grades are more important than anything else. For example, our mental health is way more important than some grades, it’s just how I feel about it. I’d love to do something about it, but that’s what we’re talking about. They would have to change the whole system, and I guess it’s pretty hard to change the whole system, but people change systems and societies all the time - for a long time, like the revolutions.
Probably not, because boys are supposed to be masculine and not supposed to cry. Boys are ashamed of crying in public and in general, but crying is something normal. That's how you express your emotions and you can’t keep everything inside yourself. I know that I cry a lot and I’m a very sensible person, but I’m not ashamed of crying. To me it’s just a natural thing and it actually helps me in hard situations. Sometimes it helps to get everything out of me and everything gets easier afterwards, but boys are just ashamed of it I guess because of norms.
What kind of hopes do you have for your future?
I hope I do something I like, but I honestly don’t know what I like, so how can I know what I would like to do in my life? I just want to be able to do what I like and to earn enough money to survive. I want to have a very tight circle of friends, that’s it.
Wrapping it up to the beginning, how did you find your shoot with Nicole?
We were planning for a long time to have a shoot, probably since last year, but for some reason it never happened. For example, we're really close, so she just asked me if I wanted to shoot and I was like; 'yeah, why not', and then she told me it was for Boys by Girls. I never heard of it before, but she showed me the latest magazine and I really liked it. I was like; 'look at them, they’re all so beautiful, but I’m not!'
You just need to believe in yourself a bit more.
Do you think the kind of pressures of what is beautiful is easier today for boys to deal with than it used to be in the past?
Yeah, it’s just because I don’t find myself beautiful by the standards in which society wants us to be like. I don’t have a square jaw and I don’t have anything special on my face, but I do have something special. I’m beautiful in my own way, some people do like it, some people don’t.
I know that now it’s pretty hard when you have something not right with your face, or people think it's not right on your face or like on your body, so people are very quickly exposed, not really exposed, but judged by people.
Do you think social media in terms of the body image on boys at the moment or what is deemed attractive has helped or hindered things?
I don’t know, because in the fashion industry, some brands use models who are not the normal beauty standard. So that helps, but those types of brands are not the most recognised and the majority of people can't afford the clothes. The thing is that I still think many people and many girls and many boys look up to those magazines, which show the male bodies that are muscular and very tough looking as 'real men', but there are other magazines, which actually do show there is beauty in something and everything. It does play a role, because with social media and magazines - modelling becomes more open to people who are not necessarily 'perfect'. It helps, because people can actually see that they are worth something.
I think that’s good words of advice for people, thank you for taking time to chat with me and being so honest.
It's no problem, thank you very much for this, because this means a lot to me.