Kristina Shakht’s Tender Portraits Of the Female Body

We speak to the NYC-based photographer about her new zine 'To Be or To Become'.

A creative butterfly who has explored fields as diverse as fashion, fine art and jewellery design, it’s through her raw images as a photographer that Kristina Shakht has truly found her voice. With her work already featured in i-D, New York Times and Office Magazine, the Saint Petersburg-raised, NYC-based creative has most recently evidenced her unique vision through To Be or To Become, a self-published zine drawing on her own experiences of patriarchy to create stirring images of the female body in its most raw, natural, un-self-conscious state.

Below, we catch up with her to discuss the zine’s moving message and intent, as well as the power of images created by women, for women. 

All photographs © Kristina Shakht 2021

Great to speak to you. To begin, could you tell our readers a bit about your creative background?

From 4 to 24 I lived in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. It was a perfect place to study fine art, design, journalism, linguistics and psychology. I was playing around with film cameras when I was between 14 and 16. Then when I was 19 I started my own jewellery brand and was shooting a lot for it. Around three or four years ago I considered photography more seriously, started publishing in magazines and working with different brands. Two years ago I moved to NYC.


You clearly had a very rich creative education. In the present day, who inspires you?

I grew up studying and surrounded by fine art so it will always have a place in my heart. In the past couple years I’ve fallen more and more in love with Marian Abramović, Petra Collins, and Carlota Guerrero. I still appreciate different art but I’m more affected and inspired by women behind the camera.


On that note, what draws you to the medium of photography?

I like the idea of capturing a moment that only exists in the second the picture is taken and I love creating stories and narratives in front of the camera that will translate my vision. Nowadays imagery, especially video or photography, have so much power to form opinions, to make people think and feel a certain way about themselves.


Let’s talk about To Be or To Become — how did the zine come about?

It was a very natural and fun experience honestly, I always wanted to make a book. I sent Liliya Shapran, my friend and co-editor for To Be or To Become, some friends’ new zine and she was like, “If you ever want to make a zine I want to do it with you!”. At that point, I already wanted to create something physical and we started working on it.


After the initial lightbulb moment, what was the creative process like?

Everything came together fast. We were FaceTiming between NYC and Saint Petersburg a lot and discussing the ideas and layouts. I already had a lot of images to choose from.  Then we had a couple days, up to a week, working on the cover. I was thinking about the name after we laid out images and chose the cover image, I really love Bren [Cukier]’s artworks: film, photography and typography so I just went shopping on her instagram to see if I could find something that could match the main idea and tell the story without you needing to see images first. I’m absolutely in love with how Bren did this artwork ‘To Be or Not To BeCome. I feel like this name changes the conversation about women: about our rights, goals, hopes and dreams.

All photographs © Kristina Shakht 2021

The images are so striking in the zine, what were your main creative aims for it?

To Be or To Become is a collection of photos that I made from 2020 and 2021 shot on Polaroid600, 35mm film and iPhone that are a representation of femininity and sexuality from a female perspective, gathered in a zine that came out on June 6. It’s self-published and the images in it create a story that is my way of reframing negative experiences connected with sex and sexuality as a young woman and taking the power back by showing women the way we see ourselves: pure, free, raw and natural.


On that note, did you find the process of making the zine to be a cathartic or therapeutic experience?

For sure, all my work is sort of art therapy.


More generally, what needs to change about the ways that women are depicted in front of the camera?

There needs to be more women in decision-making positions. More women that will inspire all of us to look at ourselves and make a change, that will start real and honest conversations. People around the world need to stop questioning if sexism even exists and telling women what they should do and how they should be and go about their lives. It took me so much energy and time to figure out that society was technically gaslighting me and that the treatment I received through life wasn’t just something I made up, but that it was real hate, bitterness and harassment from both men and women. 


In what way?

I lived in Russia from the ages of four to 24. Even though my city was as big as New York, it was a rollercoaster of sexism and hate, starting with school teachers and peers and becoming ingrained in every aspect of life. I think it’s really crazy to think how much we are being lied to regarding [women’s] purpose in life. Back in Russia, it would be a normal thing to hear that women are made for the kitchen and babies, in the 21st century, in the second biggest city in the country. It is more than sad, it has to end. It has to end [everywhere] around the globe. Creating content by women for women will help to change the narrative.


What’s next for you?

New York has just reopened and I’m feeling really hopeful for future projects. I’m mostly trying to take it slow and listen to myself and my needs. I’d definitely want to make more zines in future and maybe make it a biannual story. At some point I’d also love to do a solo show and a book.


Preorder ‘To Be or To Become’ here.

All photographs © Kristina Shakht 2021
All photographs © Kristina Shakht 2021
All photographs © Kristina Shakht 2021
All photographs © Kristina Shakht 2021
All imagesTo Be or To Become
CoverKristina Shakht and Bren Cukier
EditorsKristina Shakht and Liliya Shapran
Photography and creative directionKristina Shakht
Hair StylistTimur Katz
FloristMichelle Pelletier