Darya Apahonchich is one of the artists exhibited at the 2019 Festival of Political Photography at the Finnish Museum of Photography. Photo by Liisa Takala. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat
Relaxation for Men
Darya Apahonchich wanted to make prostitution visible so she photographed men
March 13, 2019
A good three years ago, Petersburg teacher Darya Apahonchich was walking to work when she noticed letters painted on the sidewalk.
Freely translated, the word means “relaxation, rest.” Apahonchich knew it was one of the most common phrases in Russia for advertising prostitution.
Apahonchich was intrigued. On previous walks to work, she had noticed that ads for brothels had spread everywhere, including walls, light poles, and transformer boxes, and now they seemed to have flooded the streets, too. There was also something irritating about the word отдых.
Or the slightly longer version:
Relaxation for men.
Apahonchich had an idea. She was also a professional artist and had worked in several groups that produced political art. She asked male acquaintances to think about how they really relaxed. Then she took the men to the sex ads and asked them to assume the poses they had chosen for relaxing.
The photographs were produced in the middle of sidewalks as passersby watched.
“I wasn’t trying to take smooth, finished art photos but snapshots,” she said. “People’s reactions were supportive or, more often, indifferent. Petersburg is a big city, after all, and people are not easily surprised.”
After the photoshoot, she posted the photos on social media and waited for a reaction.
Things kicked off after a while.
Apahonchich’s photos attracted attention on social media. The photographer was asked for interviews by more traditional media.
She was more delighted by offers from complete strangers, men who wanted to be involved in the project.
“They said they wanted to relax and asked whether they could help me,” Apahonich says.
Despite what you might imagine, there was nothing suggestive about the men’s requests. They genuinely wanted to be involved in doing something good.
The photographer accepted the offers and new photos were produced.
“It started out just as a fun thing but gradually turned into something more serious,” she says.
Two young men relaxing. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat
The success of Apahonchich’s photos could be explained by their skewed perspective. We have seen plenty of pictures of people victimized by prostitution at exhibitions but the gaze in her photos is focused on men.
This also has its own meaning for her.
“When people talk about prostitution, they usually talk about women, but I hope to make something invisible visible in the images I produce,” Apahonchich says.
It is a reasonable aspiration in the sense that men are active in the sex trade as middlemen, customers and, sometimes, vendors, too.
“Of course, men see my pictures differently. Some see them only as humorous. In the best case, I make the men looking at the photos reflect on their own position on the matter.”
The artist also has a personal reason for approaching the subject seriously.
Apahonchich walks around the Finnish Museum of Photography at the Cable Factory looking at the works of her colleagues in the Festival of Political Photography, which presents the work of twenty artists from around the world in a show entitled Potentiality.
In Apahonchich’s own images, men relax alongside “Relaxation for men” ads. One reads the newspaper, another plays on the train tracks, a third does yoga, and a fourth plays the balalaika.
A fifth man fishes.
According to the artist, the men who wanted into the project hardly represent the majority opinion regarding prostitution.
“Russia is still a conservative country and we have a different notion of women’s rights than in Scandinavia. It is common for men not to see any problem with prostitution. Many of them think it’s quite acceptable if, say, they have problems with their marriages.”
It is illegal in Russia to advertise sex services but, according to Apahonchich, Russian cities are in no hurry to get rid of the ads. She argues that the economic interests of the powers that be are often linked to human trafficking.
“It’s about money,” she says. “In Russia, the media have written about the links between corruption and prostitution. The police, for example, visit brothels regularly. They even have their own term for their visits. They are called ‘Saturday specials.'”
Her drastic claim is supported by a longitudinal interview study in which researchers mapped the experiences of sex workers with police in Petersburg and Orenburg. The study found that over a third of the sex workers had been abused by police.
The study was done in 2014, but researchers have obtained similar outcomes in more recent studies.
Estimates of the total number of people involved in sex work in Russia are as high as three million.
“I don’t approve of the word ‘sex worker,'” says Apahonchich. “In my opinion, it is not work but exploitation. I am talking about women who are involved in prostitution. Of course, there are differences in how people view the matter. If someone wants to call themselves a sex worker, I accept their choice, of course, but I don’t think of it that way.”
She also finds it misleading to talk about “sex.”
“Many girls go into prostitution at the age of thirteen or even younger. I think it is a question of rape culture more than of sex.”
Man and pillow. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat
Apahonchich has a personal reason for regarding prostitution negatively. She earns her daily bready by teaching Russian to women who have come from Syria and Afghanistan, for example. She is painfully aware her students are at high risk of being marginalized and forced into prostitution.
“Since they come to Russia as refugees and immigrants, they are on really shaky ground. They are often undocumented and cannot defend themselves,” Apahonchich says, looking anxious.
She is clearly concerned about her students.
She has not shown her photographs in class.
“I try to keep politics to a minimum,” she says. “A large number of my students are from quite conservative regions and I don’t want to scare them. Also, some of the students’ husbands have a negative attitude to their going to school, so in this sense, too, caution is important.”
“So, I concentrate on teaching the language and I answer their questions.”
There is one subject, however, that Apahonchich plans to raise in class.
She wants to teach the women how to talk to the police.
A man relaxes by meditating. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat
Relaxation for men. Although sex advertising has been moving to the Internet in Russia, the letters on the cobblestones still entice men into becoming customers.
Apahonchich’s own attitude to the advertisements has changed as she has photographed them.
“In the past, I would complain about them and think about all the young women they concealed. But after shooting them I saw them as locations and advertisements. I would think that one was in a good spot for marketing or this one had really different colors, that I had no photos with yellow lettering in them. Or this image was in a good place for setting up and shooting.”
Another thing has changed. The photographer now knows what to say to men who fiercely defend prostitution.
“I ask them whether they would be willing to do the same job themselves or let their children do it. Since they don’t want it for their own children, why would they wish it on others?”
The ads encouraging relaxation are also in English. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat
Apahonchich recounts how one of the men in the photos heard a child ask his parents what the ad meant as the model sat waiting on the pavement.
It was no easy task for the parents to explain what the words meant.
Nor was it easy to tell the child why a price had been placed under a woman’s name.
Translated by Living in FIN
lehmä, kuu, Egypti,
siinä olen sanonut viisi sanaa ymmärryksellä,
kuuromykälle rakennnettiin talo jossa ei ole ikkunoita,
kunnanhallitus seisoo portailla,
valokuvaaja valokuvaa pitäjänlehteä varten,
kuuromykkä istuu talossaan niin pimeässä ettei häntä ole,
mutta onhan talo,
talo on, kuu, pilvet, lehmä,
kuka vielä muistaa lehmän?
Kuka muistaa mitä Egypti tarkoittaa?
Näistä tapahtumista on kulunut kauan
kuuromykkä istunut talossaan jossa ei ole ikkunoita,
tuolilla jossa on kaksi jalkaa, onhan miehellä omat jalat terveet,
kunnanhallitus seisonut portailla
esimerkkinä hyvästä hallituksesta
joka alensi veroäyrin hinnan.
cow, moon, Egypt.
There: I have said five words whilst making sense.
A deaf mute was built a house without windows.
The council stands on the steps.
A photographer takes a photo for the local paper.
The deaf mute sits in the house so dark he is not there,
but the house is there in any case.
The house is there, the moon, the clouds, the cow.
Who still remembers the cow?
Who remembers what Egypt means?
Such a long time has passed
in the dark since these events.
The deaf mute sitting in the house without windows.
An armchair with two legs, and the man, too, has healthy legs, his own legs.
The council standing on the steps.
A model of good government,
they lowered the rates.
Source: Pentti Saarikoski, Runot (Otava, 2004), p. 101. Translated by Living in FIN. Photograph of Imatra Town Council courtesy of imatra.fi.
The Imatra Sling. Photo by Living in FIN
“Supreme Court rules in favor of baker who would not make wedding cake for gay couple.”
That is why they call it the Supreme Court, because, historically and episodically, it has reinforced racial, class, gender and sexual supremacy in the so-called United States.
Incidentally, I would never eat a cake made by a baker who would not make a wedding cake for a gay couple, not for political reasons, but because a cook or baker who has so much hatred in his soul inevitably infuses his dishes, cakes, pies, and cupcakes with the same hatred.
So, I have never understood the appeal of televised cooking competition programs in which hatred, anger, jealousy, and the spirit of cutthroat rivalry prevail. Having watched Gordon Ramsay in his calmer moments, I realize he actually is a terrific cook, but the atmosphere he cultivates in most of the TV programs he presents seems bound to produce tasteless, even harmful food.
I just made the first chicken mole in my life. I cannot even remember how exactly I made it and what I put in the mole sauce. I was winging it. But it turned out tasty, because I enjoyed making it, and I always enjoy improvising.
It was improvisation that led me to invent the cocktail I have dubbed the Imatra Sling, which consists of lots of ice in a tumbler glass, a heaping helping of ginger beer poured over the ice, whatever garnishes come to hand (tonight, it was a fresh basil leaf and an orange slice), and three-star Finnish jaloviina, a so-called cut brandy that has its own peculiar history, dating back to the two wars Finland fought against the Soviet Union in the 1940s.
Since I have tested the Imatra Sling on actual people who like alcoholic cocktails, I know it is a winner, but for the time being I won’t be going public with my profoundly random chicken mole sauce.
The happiest place I have ever been in my life was the café next to the flat where my longtime friend K. lived in the Castro after graduating from college and moving to San Francisco. Every morning, the cafe was chockablock with beautiful, happy gay men living in a community where it would have been unthinkable to hate them. In fact, it was easy to love so many handsome, happy men.
This post is going in way too many directions, just like my mole sauce, but I wanted to say the so-called United States will not have much of a future if its highest court reverts to the low road of defending the New Jim Crow, segregation, and homophobia. I thought we had been through all that pure evil before, at great cost to our country and a great loss of life, but, apparently, we will have to go through it all over again. // LIF
Russian activist Ilya Kapustin has fled to Finland, where he is currently seeking asylum. Photo by Pasi Liesimaa. Courtesy of Iltalehti
Russian Activist Ilya Kapustin, Seeking Asylum in Finland: “When the Stamp Thudded in My Passport, It Was Like a Huge Weight Had Been Lifted from My Shoulders”
March 10, 2018
A familiar looking man sits opposite me. We have met earlier via video link, but now there are coffee cups between us.
“I now feel considerably better than in Russia,” says Ilya Kapustin, 25, but he grasps for words when I ask how things are going.
Iltalehti interviewed Kapustin in early February, just a few days after Russia’s security service, the FSB, most likely abducted and tortured him. At the time, Kapustin was still in Petersburg, and the interview was conducted via video link. Kapustin is currently in Finland. He has applied for asylum.
Kapustin is still the same quiet and slightly nervous man as when we spoke the last time.
“I feel a bit shakey. I still sleep badly and cannot get to sleep. But the situation in Russia was even worse,” Kapustin says at first.
He says he also feels sad.
“I may never return to Russia.”
“More importantly, however, there is no threat to my freedom,” he continues.
Kapustin said earlier he was not terribly politically active. Now he can speak more freely because he has left Russia. The connections with terrorism, alleged by the FSB, are absurd. Kapustin has been involved in politics, however. He has been involved in activities opposed to Putin’s regime and the dominant power structures in Russia.
Due to the trumped-charges against them, his fellow activists in Russia could be facing as many as dozens of years in prison.
Escape to Finland
Kapustin decided to escape from Russia to Finland, like many other Russian dissidents and members of minorities have done in recent times.
In an interview with Yle, Esko Repo, head of the Finnish Migration Service’s asylum, said that as a whole it was a matter of hundreds of Russians who had applied for asylum in Finland. In 2016, the number was 192, and last year it was over 400. Repo told Yle there had been 73 applications since the beginning of the year.
Last year, 21 Russians had their applications approved, and 12 of these were asylum seekers.
Kapustin traveled to Finland in a quite ordinary way. He bought a ticket for one of the minibuses that circulate often between Finland and Russia. The mode of travel was humdrum albeit nerve-wracking in Kapustin’s circumstances.
“At the border, one man was questioned for fifteen minutes,” Kapustin recounts how things went on the Russian side of the frontier.
He was afraid that he, too, would end up being grilled by officials. Luck was on his side, however.
“I noticed a second queue had been opened at the border checkpoint. I quickly moved over to it.”
“When the stamp thudded in my passport and the trip continued on the Finnish side, it was like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders,” Kapustin says.
“My Mind Was Playing Tricks on Me”
Just a day before his escape, their minds had been playing tricks on Kapustin and his loved ones.
Kapustin fled to Finland as soon as his visa was ready. The last night at his sister’s home had been excruciating, however. Kapustin can now smile at what happened, but that night nearly a month ago was as frightening living through a nightmare.
A minivan with dark-tinted windows was parked on the street in front of his sister’s flat. His sister and her husband did not recognize the vehicle, but it was quite reminiscent of the one in which Kapustin had been kidnapped and tortured in January.
“I was really afraid. I immediately packed my belongings and left their place in the morning,” Kapustin recounts.
It later transpired the vehicle parked in the street was owned by his sister’s neighbor.
“He had bought a new vehicle,” Kapustin laughs.
“My mind, however, was playing tricks on me, because I was really afraid at the time. Until I arrived in Finland I wondered who was in the vehicle lest they do anything to my sister’s family.”
Kapustin’s loved ones are under surveillance in Russia. For example, his brother-in-law’s VK social network page has been hacked. He had posted several articles about Kapustin’s case on his page.
“The [hackers] posted only a single link on the page. It led to the site of a well-known reality TV show,” Kapustin says.
In the event, the ludicrous part was that the reality TV show in question, Dom 2, had been hosted by TV presenter and Russian presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak. Kapustin regards the hack as bad police humor.
“They wanted to show us they can do whatever they like.”
Life in Finland
Kapustin’s parents and his sister and her family still live in Petersburg. The family urged Kapustin to flee after he had been abducted and tortured. Nevertheless, Kapustin told them about his escape only after he had arrived in Finland.
“Mom ordered me to leave, but I didn’t tell them ahead of time [when I was leaving] just in case.”
His parents and sister know about the events that led to the escape, but Kapustin did not tell them all the details. He believes the authorities will not go after his family.
“I’m not so interesting to them (the FSB),” he conjectures.
His life is in Finland now. Kapustin worked as an industrial climber in Russia and hopes he can find similar work in Finland.
“I worked in high places. We installed things, cleared snow from rooftops, and washed windows,” Kapustin recounts.
He understands the training he received in Russia is not necessarily valid in Finland and is prepared to study and do other work.
And how will he deal emotionally with the waiting, with going through the asylum application process, and coming to grips with the ways of a new society?
“I’m trying to think of it as an adventure so I can move forward. It is an episode in my life I’ll remember, and now I can remember it as a free man and not in prison,” Kapustin reflects.
If you haven’t heard yet about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, you need to read the following articles and spread the word.
March 12, 2018
Shady Forced Repatriation Practices at Baghdad Airport
Stop Deportations was in contact today with a Baghdad Airport policeman via the Danish journalist Kods Almsaray. The policeman did not want his name published. We asked under what terms and agreements they accepted Iraqi asylum seekers forcibly repatriated to Iraq by the Finnish police when the Iraqi immigration minister had said Iraq did not accept any forcibly repatriated Iraqis. The source at Baghdad Airport said they accepted only asylum seekers convicted of crimes, such as terrorism, for example. The criminal background check was done in such a way that the airport police got the forcibly repatriated asylum seeker’s legal documents from the Finnish policemen escorting him, Mohammed said.
When we said the forced returnees were largely ordinary asylum seekers who had not done anything illegal while they were in Finland and most were still in the middle of asylum application process, the line went dead.
Several forcibly repatriated asylum seekers have confirmed the Finnish police gave their asylum application papers at the airport to the Iraqi police, who made photocopies of them. Then the Iraqi police questioned why the applicants went to Finland and checked whether they were on the Iraqi Interior Ministry’s list. All of this put the forced returnees in grave danger, as the asylum application papers contained confidential information about how the applicants were persecuted and who persecuted them.
One can also end up on the Interior Ministry’s list for quite arbitrary reasons and those who are on the list can be victimized indefinitely.
The lack of a passport is no longer an obstacle to forced repatriation when the Finnish police can write up a disposable “European travel document for third-country nationals illegally residing in the country,” although asylum seekers whose application review process is still underway are not residing illegally in Finland.
Forced returnees who even had steady jobs when they left Finland have shown us pictures of their European travel documents. According to the documents, they had been residing in Finland illegally.
Last week, Stop Deportations asked Finnish Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen on the basis of what treaties and documents Finland has been engaged in forced repatriations to Iraq, when neither official Iraq nor Finland has admitted to the repatriations. The minister managed to avoid answering the question. An employee with state-owned Iraqi Airways estimated today, in conversation with Stop Deportations, that Finland is currently the most active forced repatriator in the EU. But where is the agreement on forced repatriations? Where are the transparent practices?
Translated by Living in FIN. Thanks to Comrade AR for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Stop Deportations
The urban planning geniuses who run Imatra, South Karelia, have re-purposed the former Prisma supermarket in the town’s Linnala (Mansikkala) neighborhood. They have given it over to the mysterious tribe of sub-artists known as taggers. Soon, I expect, the building will be entirely blanketed with these cryptic spray-painted runes, signifying nothing except the onset of urban decay and the collapse of public order.
Unless I am terribly mistaken, neither the building’s owners nor city officials have plans for doing anything more ambitious with the ex-store, yet another huge slab of empty commercial space. Imatra is now chockablock with such vacated stores and offices.
Currently being tagged into oblivion by young people who fancy themselves rebels but are among the dullest conformists on earth, the old Prisma store is smack dab across the street from the new Prisma hypermarket, which was built for Russian shopping tourists, not for local residents, whose peace of mind and quality of life dropped through the floorboards during the two or three years it took to build the gigantic consumerist palazzo, the city’s largest chunk of commercial real estate.
But it was all worth it. Anything giant construction companies, urban planners, and semi-monopolies (e.g., the S Group, which owns the Prisma chain and approximately fifty percent of all other chain stores, restaurants, and hotels in Finland) wants to do, wherever it wants to do it, and whatever its impact on the people living in the vicinity, it is always worth it.
And you should see the improvements to the neighborhood occasioned by the S Group’s flat-roofed ziggurat!
Do you know the expression “adding insult to injury”?
That seems to have been the principle guiding the hackwork done by subcontractors and the City of Imatra when they beautified, so to speak, the wave of mutilation that had just rolled over the neighborhood.
First, they made it triply difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate their old haunts by constructing an impossible maze of new roads, footpaths, and roundabouts in the emerging shopping mecca. (Since the new Prisma opened, chain stores Tokmanni and Jysk got in on the act, closing their old stores in other parts of town and building new outlets in the once spacious but now crowded neighborhood, thus joining the nonstop shopping party started eight or so years ago by K City Market, Lidl, Raja Market, and Prisma).
To put it crudely, they made life easier for motorists at the expense of non-motorists. Or they forgot about non-motorists altogether, which is more likely.
Planners also dotted the environs with sickly little trees, some of them resembling nothing so much as unattractive sticks, stuck maliciously into the dirt by angry taggers or other vandals, or the pathetic Christmas tree that Charlie Brown and Snoopy buy in the cartoon A Charlie Brown Christmas, which immediately sheds all its needles when they bring it home.
This so-called greenery will never grow into anything verdant and flourishing, because that might block the view of the stunning big box the S Group plopped down in the middle of what used to be a grassy meadow and grove of tall trees where old folks and children would ski in the winters. That is, before the City of Imatra decided that attracting Russian shoppers was its only real mission and it could safely turn its back on its own pedestrians, cyclists, children, old people, and poor people.
Photos by Living in FIN