About the project
Nika Russia Love (2005-2007)
“A visual theatre of daily intimacy, where the memory of drugs, alcohol, negligence, violence, abuse and death subconsciously dominates day and night. As Nika says herself, "Once addicted, always addicted”.
Nika, a young Russian woman is a true caracter whom I've come to love and admire in the period we worked together. We met when she was 25 as I was looking for young people having HIV. In six trips to the Russian Federation, over 2,5 years, I followed Nika wherever she would live; which was either in Moscow or in Saint Petersburg. She currently lives in Moscow.
This project is a personal photo and video documentary about Nika and her inner circle of friends; a group of young people in between 19-27 years, with HIV+ status (except for one). Portrayed in her ‘small world’, where new and lost ideals "share the same bed" so to speak, and where ever changing friendships, envy, love, sex and political engagement make part of spending their time in their everyday life, besides going to work (..in most cases). As they're trying hard to not give in to the omnipresent desire of their former addictive habits and needs, which never seems to leave their present, life must be everything but boring, and being ‘awaken’ not using drugs anymore, it will never be as empty as it has been again.
What you see is a selection of pictures taken in and around her private world in Nika's home as I merely focused on her intimate life, as in the Moscow streets; moments shared with different boyfriends, best and common friends and couples. The most important people around her, I interviewed, of whom some I got to know well this period.
During my visits I would stay at her place to photograph as well film Nika and her best friends day and night. She became my so-called leading ‘star’ because she made me understand what it takes to make the decision to stop taking drugs and why certain people can’t. She also made me understand why people like her start using in the first place, as did her friends. I also understood that they won't take life for granted, because almost all of them state they shouldn't be alive as of today, but somehow they are. Grateful with the chance to be alive still, they really make an effort to fit in, connecting through their community, looking for opportunities to spread awareness on the subject in Russian society and leading their lives towards an unknown future. Most of them aren't actually upset to be HIV-positive. They live their lives with a higher conscience, and in a way as if it weren’t the case at all.
As Nika is seropositive since she was 17, she has been clean for many years now.
What surprised me immediately about Nika was that she had always been very open about it to anyone she would encounter, whether it be a cabdriver, or people she’d meet through the 12-steps therapy group, which is a weekly psychotherapy-group that offers a 12 steps-program, an offspring from 12 steps program for AA groups- Alcohol Anonymous. The paradox in her character though is that a few of the people she knew in her inner circle, weren’t aware of her status being HIV+. As for her friends, most are clean for either a couple of months at that time, others already for numerous years. Some of them have AIDS and use triple-treatment.
All of them have a second anniversary, which is the day they’d actually overcome their addiction.
It was my wish to unravel how this small group of young people related to one another and to themselves in regard to their own past and perspectives. Portraying them as people who love, have desires, enjoy life and who are strong and positive-minded so as to give a rather positive image on this heavily mediated and stigmatized subject. Since my first stay in Russia in 2002, when I met a young couple with HIV status and very much in love, Oxsana and Dima, I reckoned that there was and still is a judgement as there is fear and prejudice towards HIV and it’s effect in terms of personal belief as well as to social implications it has. Nonetheless their status, Oxana and Dima, as Nika and her friends learned me that giving true meaning to life through healing and acceptance, and most importantly to live the experience of love is what seems to overcome personal struggle.
All but one couple (with AIDS) have succeeded to overcome their addiction. Two persons started to use again in the meantime, both died, of which one took an overdose. After I ended the project Nika started a rehab for drug addicts in Jekaterinaburg with her now ex-boyfriend Vitali. They stopped working together as well as being a couple in 2008.