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Albina Maks Visualizes Counter-Stereotypes Through Her Bold and Inclusive Imagery

By Brogues - 5 min read

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Born into a post-Soviet state amid conservative social values, Albina Maks tried and failed to fit into prescribed pigeonholes from a young age – until she discovered the power of defining herself on her own terms. In this guest post, the Berlin-based photographer explains how she uses the camera as a tool to navigate and express her identity in its complex entirety, empowering others do so too.

When I was 11, I moved from Uzbekistan to Germany and lost both my language and identity. Diving into the new culture, adapting and losing myself, I tried to find a tool to express my inner world. Attempting to adjust to everything and everybody, I managed to fit into different categories, but at the same time didn’t fit into any at all.

“Photography is my own frame of mind.”

Photography is my own frame of mind. It helps me to abstract my vision, overcome the fear of existence and question notions of aesthetic beauty. Beauty is a very fragile topic for me in general, one I have to face every day and everywhere. Sometimes the world feels like a men’s club to me. We are full of anxiety, shame, hypersexualization, different syndromes, fears, feeling like we don’t belong, feeling like there isn’t space for us to take up.

“I love unusual looks and characters, people with distinctive styles or stories.”

My desire is to show the diversity of unique and so-called unconventional beauty, especially of women and more vulnerable genders or identities. I love unusual looks and characters, people with distinctive styles or stories. I want to portray them with a lot of respect. My latest works represent stateless, genderless, totally unique women in our society.

“I’m hungry to capture hidden, authentic, honest beauty.”

We hide behind 1000 different masks, covering our true identities, diving into this artificial, constructed self. We become blind to it and forget the phenomenal selves we already have deep inside us. I’m hungry to capture hidden, authentic, honest beauty, in a way creating a safe space through my photography and process.

Being born into a traditional Soviet family, female beauty was strictly defined for me – and yet I didn’t feel like I related to it at all. I grew up a little tomboy with short hair, always preferring to wear sporty, oversized clothing, not caring about expressing femininity. I felt this unique feeling of freedom. I was never called pretty or beautiful, I was just a little something, with others hoping I’d become a “real woman” when I grew up.

As a teenager, I wanted to become part of this big universe, trying on different cloaks of womanhood and not feeling comfortable or confident in my own body. I tried to be more feminine, tried getting noticed by men, tried to be accepted. But I felt more trapped in this definition of a sexualized woman and grew tired of comments like “When are you gonna look like a woman?” or, after a few layers of make-up, “Finally, you look beautiful!”

“Through photography, I learned to admire and appreciate myself.”

Now I’m finding the little tomboy inside me again and using photography to fully express my identity and experience. I discovered that I’m far more attracted to raw beauty. It was so liberating to finally understand that we are so much more than the make-up, so much more than glossy magazine covers with unattainable standards. Through photography, I learned to admire and appreciate myself.

The awareness of being a queer-identifying woman helped me feel so much deeper. There are times when I feel women, especially women in queer communities, aren’t listened to or respected, and they don’t speak up as loudly because it takes so much confidence to do it. I feel blessed to capture so many strong women, queer communities and unique identities.

“I want to capture the whole story of their world and help them have a voice, help them respect themselves.”

For me it’s so important how I represent my environment. It’s not just about picturingthe women, showing some nudity, objectifying their bodies, but presenting their true characters. I want to capture the whole story of their world and help them have a voice, help them respect themselves.

“Nan Goldin’s honest, fearless and intimate way of portraying reality and the LGBTQ+ community made me rethink my work.”

Searching for inspirations and motivations, I came across Nan Goldin’s work. I felt familiar and warm reading her biography, drawn to the way she captured herself and those around her. Goldin’s honest, fearless and intimate way of portraying reality and the LGBTQ+ community made me rethink my work. I’d been doubting my work and realized that there was sense in what I was instinctively seeing and capturing. Reading her words and photography, I finally felt peace inside me. It was almost like she was speaking my mind.

“Queer is the way I describe my choice to be me as a human being and not someone else’s idea of who I should be.”

To me, the word queer means freedom of choice and the ability to be a chameleon. It’s a combination of the unwillingness to be branded or pigeonholed for being homosexual, for being “different”. A queer person is somebody who doesn’t fit into mainstream thinking, whether they identify as homosexual or not. It’s the way to describe my choice to be me as a human being and not someone else’s idea of who – or how – I should be.

“We’re so much more than our stereotypes.”

From a really young age, I never understood stereotypes or stamps. I never felt comfortable being pigeonholed. I just never fitted into categories. We are all so different, changeable, vulnerable. We are full of history, experiences, values. Most of the time we lose and find ourselves. I find the word queer has a very interesting way to view the world today, versus an ideal that can’t truly be recognized. I’m so much more than my sexuality. We’re so much more than our stereotypes.

This guest post was written as part of #NotYourCliche, our movement away from antiquated stock stereotypes and towards a more relevant, inclusive, representative view of global culture and society. You can find more of Albina’s work on her EyeEm profile or personal website.