Art,  Fashion

To Russia With Love: Farewell, Ekaterina

It’s a bittersweet moment for us here at BSSTW, because today we are celebrating the work of Moscow-born art and fashion photographer, Ekaterina Belinskaya. Unfortunately, due to the international pandemic, we are also saying farewell to Ekaterina, who is leaving America to return to her family in Russia. “It’s best to be with the people we love during this crisis,” she told me recently in an exclusive interview.

Ekaterina came to the states just three years ago, settling first in New York, then later in Los Angeles. During her stay here,  she has remained profound and prolific, creating countless beautifully-dark photographs, some of which we will see here. Her works have been included in the list of “Best Photos of Russia” four years in a row and she was awarded Russia’s prestigious “Best Photographer” award in 2012.

Ekaterina’s portraiture is really quite something. This early piece from her portfolio depicts a cherubic beauty in a pearl and gold headdress by Agnieszka Osipa. A study in contrast, the subject is both innocent and sensual, moody yet placid, dark but light. Ekaterina manages to capture the model’s dichotomy in unexpected ways.

The playful capture above is at once witty and grand. I love the irreverence and humor in this epic picture. The model almost becomes part of the sculpture here, precariously perched on the vulnerable face of a warrior who is destined to protect her in spite of herself. It really is charming and disarming, and the composition makes you examine it more than once. The startling beauty of the subject, mixed with the grandeur of the coarse, sculpted figures surrounding her, is quite an arresting notion.

Russian actress Olga Makeeva stars in this portrait, above, ripe with ecclesiastical undertones and titled simply, “Prayer.” The gossamer gown, styled by Alisa Gagarina and Aneta Sheripova, along with flawless makeup and hair by Yana Efremova and Alexey Yaroslavtsev, respectively, are divine, yes….but the lighting and the mood are all Ekaterina’s doing, and she does them well. A soft, diffused, almost candlelit glow further enhances Olga’s translucent skin in this innocent little vignette, a virtuous moment captured in time….however brief and mysterious it may be.

A traditional kokoshnik, symbol of Russian nobility, is the crested, pearl-embroidered headdress which punctuates the model’s head, who, all awash in pristine white, sits serenely with a giant swan on her lap. This is the beauty of Belinskaya. Ekaterina is at her very best when she unites nature with fashion in a kind of unexpected, creative matrimony.

There are so many winning elements in this portrait. The symbolism of the swan–gentle, dignified, majestic, and affluent–in front of a desiccated, war-torn wall, illuminates the increasing divide between the rich and the poor in her homeland. This, my friend, is “Tsarevna.” This is socially-conscious art.

Haunting and ethereal, this campaign for RL Jewels features the breathtaking Karina from IQ Models and impeccable styling by Alisa Gagarina. Such a rendering of what appears to be a delicate moment, captured by the expert eye of Ekaterina, stuns its beholder. Utterly sublime. The posturing, the downward-cast eyes and gentle hands, an exquisite earring worn as an oddly elegant hair brooch, with pure white toile and floating feathers, all on pearly alabaster skin, make this picture more than memorable. Rather, it’s indelible. These are the kinds of photographs that are poignant and unforgettable.

Ekaterina plans to return for projects when the global crisis is less imminent. She said she will miss America, as well as the beautiful nature that she discovered while living in California. “The weather in L.A. is a priceless gift,” she said. “I wish I had a chance to shoot more on different outdoor locations here.”

This bizarre, cinematic capture comes from Ekaterina’s “Salton Sea” series at Bombay Beach just outside of Los Angeles, featuring “a door in the middle of nowhere,” she mused. “It was magical.”

I love the symbolism in Ekaterina’s work. It’s tangible. For example, the door leads to nothing but wreckage–the atrophied ruins of the once-bustling Salton Riviera, one of California’s most peculiar landmarks. In case you didn’t know, the Salton Riviera was, at one time, a manmade sea birthed from an ill-planned irrigation canal carved out by a California development company back in 1905. It is the result of a dry lake bed that flooded and was subsequently dubbed “miracle in the desert” because it became a popular resort area, attracting 1.5 million people a year, booming with yacht clubs and fancy hotels. The sea and its shores were teeming with wildlife in the early years. That was before it transmogrified into an ugly toxic wasteland in the 1970s as a result of poor drainage and an increase in the sea’s salinity. At first, fish began to die, then the birds became ill, and finally, the tourists began to disappear. Now it’s littered with fish corpses and vacant buildings and smells like rot.

And if you look closely at the photo above, you will see the mark of 666 on the left of the door frame, possibly indicating that humanity is going straight to hell, and all while wearing a fancy red hat. The devil is here and ironically, it’s a she……and furthermore, she’s got great legs. I love the way Ekaterina’s work reveals the most compelling answers if you’re willing to simply ask the right questions.

Quirky and visually-interesting, ripe with symbolism, dense with color and rich with texture, this tribute leaves me hungry for more of her uniquely iconic work. If you want to see more of Ekaterina Belinskaya, visit her website, where you can read her biography and buy limited-edition prints of her photography. Farewell, Ekaterina, for now.


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