1.037 miles between Moscow and Prague. A two and a half hour flight. Touching down at the airport, cultures are merging. Two worlds - two views. Russia is a place of its own, but do the traditional stereotype of the Russian still remain? Photographer Bambi Christa captures Russian born model Anton Savitskiy, who now lives in Prague, as he talks us through changes in Eastern traditions and gender roles.
Parts of the Eastern world still clings to a specific way of role allocation; men solve problems - women rule behind shut doors. Unattainable wishes for change is rising, sometimes boiling over. Moving to Prague altered Anton’s view of life and turned his opportunities around. As many others of his Generation Z peers, he has freedom at his feet to express himself more freely. Working as a photographer, stylist and passionate reader of Socrates’ wisdom, he keeps questioning his own persona and what life is about by trying out and exploring. Bambi catches Anton within his multi-diversified perspectives, as he faces life's big questions. She zooms in and out - meets the quinting eye and spot hidden layers.
Those fervors of freedom were something Anton experienced after moving to Europe. Extraordinary habits, that only existed on the other side of the locked door. Things he had never seen. Far away from the Siberian tundra with its unshakable forests. But radiant rainbow colours won’t be able to brighten up everyone’s horizon. Equality for gay people in Moscow and St. Petersburg might slowly change, but the sad truth is that some are still beaten in the streets because of who they are. A bitter contrast to Anton's aim to give in to his inner voice and finding his own unique path to happiness - a place where you don't have to play a role. Let's all sing this song, as everyone deserves to simply play the role of themselves and walk their own paths.
How was the shoot with Bambi?
I am a photographer and stylist, too, so it was really nice. That’s my first occupation, and besides that I do modelling. I'm very familiar with photography, as I studied it, so the shoot was very nice.
You now live in Prague, but you were not born there, right?
Yes, I was born in Russia, in Siberia. It’s a place where two cultures, the Asian and the Western culture, come together. It’s really nice, because you have different mentalities, I would say more of the Asian mentality. Let me compare it to Europe; people, especially from United Kingdom and Western Europe, are very open. They have small chats like; ‘Hey, how are you?’. We don’t have this in Russia - we don’t have it in Siberia. If you want to ask something you just ask it. You don’t make pointless phrases or try to be polite. We are quite straight forward. You just say what you need, and I love it. I love that straight conversation. I think that is the biggest difference between Czech Republic and my hometown.
So you prefer the direct way of talking and small-talk is a challenge for you?
Yes, but I have changed for sure. I would say I have a new character and new skills, like talking about nothing. I can do that now, but when I first came to Prague it was pretty hard for me to start those on-the-surface conversations and finish them. When I came to Prague I started to work in touristic business, and I needed to talk with people a lot. It was my first job. There were so many people from all these different countries where I have never been, so it was all very different for me. My employer said that I needed to do it, so I went for it. I told myself that I could do it. I have this inner voice speaking, but it is not natural for me.
How was growing up in Russia?
It was really nice. In Russia you have the city and the next 500 kilometres is just forest. So thank you Internet that you exist. You know, my hometown is not a touristy place, there are only Russians. Maybe some people from Azerbaijan, China or Japan, but I mostly grew up with Russians. After the nineties it was a time when people were really aggressive, because we didn’t have any power - we didn't have a state, because it had changed. Everything was built in the EU. No police control, no government control. You could do whatever you want. Absolute freedom. It was like that from 1991 to the beginning of the 2000’s, but I grew up a little bit after that, so the hard life was before.
But how it actually was, you were walking down the street with your friends and somebody stopped you and said; ‘Hey man, can you give me your mobile phone, please? I need to call someone.’ And you could say yes or no, but if you said no they would ask you why not. And it happened to me maybe five times that I was punched by somebody - maybe five or six people. I had to fight with these guys. It was very hard, I didn’t like it. They were simply poor people who needed money. We had those ghettos and you just knew which streets you were supposed to pass and which you should avoid. When you were walking down the street you were always thinking of what to say to people, because if you talked bullshit... You couldn’t just be like blah blah blah. It was really hard. Especially in school in this post-Soviet-world. I really liked moving to Europe, because now I see that the people I grew up with are still thinking within frames. I think that is maybe the reason why so many Russian people in the world can’t succeed. Because a lot of them don’t have that wide view. I think in Moscow and St. Petersburg there are a lot of really talented and nice guys.
How would you describe your generation and the people you have been growing up with?
They are absolutely fucked up. They don’t know what to do with their life. They are like small cats, thrown into life and they don’t know what to do with it. I am not kidding. I had a very spiritual life, and I was a Buddhist. I travelled with my llama through Europe and I was really interested in what life is, asking a lot of questions that I am still asking. I can see the world like a game of Sims. Your life is a game and you absorb everything that is happening around. Maybe it is not new, but they are lost and trying to find something they can’t find. Because they are not listening to their inner voice, but to the voices outside. What advertisements say, what parents and schools say. I respect people who just leave university or school and start their own way. I think it is poison - other opinions are like poison. Your opinion is the most important opinion. Your experience is the most important experience. Many people don’t have that. Some people yes, of course.
What are the good things about your generation?
I live in Prague and I communicate mostly with Russians. I am not part of the Czech companies. I don’t know why, that’s just how it is. So I can only judge Russians and people from Ukraine that I know. I would say I really respect and love them, because most of them moved to the Czech Republic on their own. It is a big distance, and they might have no money to move. I can say something about people with a Russian background and Ukrainians - I love them a lot. They are really independent and try to push their life ahead. They struggle and people are different. I like people who are different and still try not to loose their identity. Many things that happen in Prague are inspired by the German culture, mostly Berlin. Berlin is our King and we are the princes. We try to be the same or create something similar. I don’t like it. There are people who simply appreciate nature and they are conscious about it and respect it. They try to save what they have and what they had before. They know about their family tree and the branches are growing wider. But some say: ‘That’s not my tree, I like the German tree.’ So I respect all identities.
Where do you think this adaption of Germany and Berlin comes from?
Because it is really cool, it’s amazing. I have been to Berlin three times and I loved it. My next place to move will be Berlin, I would like to live there. It is so nice, and there are people who care about fashion and style. I saw people who don’t look around them at all, they don’t care what somebody looks like. They just look at themselves. I think it stands for your own tree. Why do people try to copy? That’s actually a big question. The soul never lies to you.
You are a stylist and photographer. Talk to me about your passions.
It’s beauty. In art we have paintings and art objects. We appreciate it, we love it, we ignore it - so it is really interesting that some art masterpieces are valued by a big group of people. I really need to feel it, to know that it’s not fake. It’s part of something more and you feel that. I feel I am listening to myself and listening to what I like and what is important for me. Then I try to discover that. For me, life is a big inspiration. And people, especially great people like Steve Jobs and Jack London. It’s important to listen to your soul, it will give you the ideas.
You talked a lot about your soul. Are you a quite spiritual person?
It’s a really long story. In Russia people are Orthodox, so I was born and raised as a Christian. After moving to Europe I started to have more freedom around me. I started seeing Buddhism as my way, but now I see the only way that exist is your own way. It’s your own spirit, and I believe that a person knows everything. Do you know Guy Ritchie? There is a film he is in and it’s really nice. It is like 'The Matrix'. Most people are just sleeping, they don’t know what is going on around them. You should wake up. Wake up from stereotypes and people you respect. Start listening to what your heart actually says.
How do you get there?
That’s hard to say. I believe that there are old spirits that exist - old souls and young souls, and you can see them. It’s just your way, how you develop yourself. It means that it is your way and you can make mistakes. But it doesn’t mean that somebody is worse and another is better. Everyone has his or her own way to experience. It’s just you, experiencing your life in your way. Like ‘Stairways to Heaven’ by Led Zeppelin. It is your stairway to go.
Let's take a step back, I have a deeper question for you: Who is Anton?
Nobody. I would say I am is nobody. I am still asking this, still looking for a foundation. Where the ego starts, where Anton starts. Maybe Anton is just a name, maybe Anton is a human - but what is human? I have kept asking this and you know, I think the biggest thing to know is what Socrates said; ‘I know, that I know nothing.’
How would you describe your current lifestyle and how would you like it to be in five to ten years?
Have you read the book 'Moby Dick'? You might remember Captain Ahab. He keeps trying to catch the big fish, Moby Dick. For me it is the same - I have my aim. I want to create beauty and I go for it. I think about it all the time, like how to make things more beautiful. I choose it and I try to connect everything in my life to it. It’s really nice to have a nice apartment. It’s nice to have things that make everything beautiful. Like, a girl is beautiful, because she has a beautiful soul. Everything is connected like that.
If you had to define beauty, what would it be for you?
For me it is something that is connected with life. Bad things can be beautiful too. And people in dark situations can be beautiful, because they struggle. I think that’s beauty. Struggling lets you develop yourself. Life is beauty, and I really believe that every person has their kind of completely unique view on life. My painting teacher said; 'When you start painting, you paint like a child, and after years you go inside to your soul and start again by someone else teaching you how to do it.' Art is a tool to get to know who you are. I lost my source. It’s sad that you are not Russian. It could be a better conversation, haha.
Who do you see as influencers of the generation?
There are different groups, some people love Gucci Mane, some people like Asap Rocky. I have Skepta. It’s about hip-hop or pop. I could say it’s connected to music. It’s really interesting that our heroes are not politicians. It’s not about scientists or writers, our generation's heroes are pop stars. People, who are everywhere in advertisement - they are our heroes. For me, my influencers are mostly philosophers. Or human beings, like Muhammad Ali. I also love many photographers like Paul Walker and Peter Lindbergh. Writers as well. The most important person that inspires me is life itself.
Do you ever cry?
I'll try to remember... No. I would say when I have a really hard time or something is hard, you can grow. You can change with pain.
Do you feel like you can control your emotions, when it comes to anger or pain?
Yes, I can control them. I am a really calm person. With people around me I am really calm, only on the inside I talk with my demons. Everyone has their personal demons.
How do you handle stressful situation?
I have many tools. I can just absorb it, or go one step away from it and see it from a distance. I can go inside the problem to see what the route is. You can always do something. If you are in a special situation and you are not confident, the situation will catch you.
We talk a lot about Mental Health these days. Is that something you have any experience with it?
No, I know that many people have depression. That is the only thing I know. I think it’s a normal thing and it’s good.
In the modern society we live in gender role are becoming a bit more fluid. How do you feel about this?
Oh, that’s a nice question for a Russian man. I don’t know, I don’t care about it. Really, you can be whoever you want to be. In Russia it is really hard for homosexual people. They are beaten by somebody on the street, but there is not a gender problem between men and women. You can see really often that men care about a girl, they try to be gentle. A man sees a women as a very beautiful thing - so he opens the door, he pays for her in cafes. In Russia, it’s typical that the man pays for the girl. Women are happy and men can show: ‘Look I am a man.’ And girls are like: ’Oh, somebody cares about me, I am not alone.’ In Czech Republic it is not like that. Here it is mostly like are the same. In Russia, the man needs to solve the problem, but in the family, it is the woman who is the man. She solves the problems. It is all in good balance.
What about gender fluidity?
Normal. They exist that’s okay. Do whatever you want. I like crazy things and for me that’s a crazy thing. If I see somebody in a TV show with the look of a woman, thsi is not something I am used to seeing. If I was born in the Western world, maybe I would say it is just as normal as going to the supermarket and buying bread. But for me it is not.
You were talking about homosexuality. Is the view on this changing in Russia?
I was in Moscow and I was surprised when I saw men kissing at a party. They weren’t locals, but it was a party for artists. And everyone was thikning that is was ok, so that was nice. After that I realised that the situation in Moscow and St.Petersburg is better - there is more freedom. On the other hand; people are more aggressive in Russia, because there are many millions of people living there. Everyone has their own aim, but in another way you have your freedom and can try whatever you want. I would say that in the last years the situation has become better, for sure. People have more and more European values. I think in twenty years, we will be like the Czech Republic is now and in fifty years Russia will be like Amsterdam. I don’t know. We will see.
Do you think that masculinity is changing?
I would say it is really nice to hear it, because I never thought about it. You won’t see gay people in the open public in Prague, only if you go to local parties.
Have you ever been in love?
Yes, but I don’t think it was true love. I love a lot of my friends from Russia. Like Philip, he is one of my idols somehow. He is really nice, I love his soul. That’s one man I love. He is still in Russia, but he will come to Czech Republic. To women you have sexual love, but to him I just love who he is, how he lives and what kind of brain he has. I respect it and love it.
Do you have a dream or goal?
Yes, I would like to create very beautiful things and I do that. It is my dream to keep doing it and always have a little freedom inside. That’s all that I need from life.