When Andrej Russkovskij moved to Berlin a few years ago, he did one of the first few things that most of us would have on our to-do list: make some friends. The only difference was he did it in a creative way: taking portraits of the most interesting people he met. All it took is one portrait session in film for his biggest photography project to be set in motion. He has since been featuring some of the coolest titular Berlin Kids and their personal stories, with the goal of sharing with the rest of the world the inspiration that came with meeting them.
More than just a project about pretty faces, eye-catching colors, and Instagram-worthy aesthetics, Andrej tells us that he wanted Berlin Kids to be about the sentiments and sensibilities that each of his models-turned-friends represents. “Hey, why should I be the only person feeling inspired and empowered by what has been said?” he mused on the feelings that sparked the idea and motivation behind the project. We’re sure you must want to find out more, so go ahead and read through our chat with him below!
Can you tell us about how your Berlin Kids project began? Where did the idea come from? Why portraits?
It all started because of the session with the legend who was meant to become the first Berlin kid: Jake. Back then we barely knew each other. However, in between an outfit change and the other, we opened up a lot and had a long, personal and meaningful conversation. I remember feeling like, “Hey, why should I be the only person feeling inspired and empowered by what has been said?” I realized how important it was for me to show that my models, mostly friends, were more than just pretty faces. So I asked Jake and the future Berlin kids to write a short text about something that they held dear.
What kept me going in the last couple of years was actually the people’s response to the topics the “kids” had picked. How their different backgrounds, styles, or goals in life seem to become less important in light of what actually unites us and makes us relate to each other. Eventually, we’re all humans and we all go through the same highs and lows.
What is it like planning shoots for this project? Do you get help with styling or scouting locations?
Every shoot has its own story. Being a bit of a “social butterfly”, as some of my friends like to call me, finding new faces was really never much of an issue. As far as the locations are concerned, I guess I’ve used most of Berlin already, ranging from abandoned places, architectural standouts, parks, lakes and landmarks. Style-wise, I like the “kids” to wear something they feel comfortable in and that represents them. Can be their birthday suit, a party outfit, a vintage piece… That’s totally up to them.
Tell us about the camera and film combo/s you typically use for this series. How do they help you get the results that you have in mind?
So far I’ve used mostly my Miranda Sensomat RE with a 50mm lens, a proper gem for what I wanted to achieve. I’ve occasionally picked a Nikon N55 with a Petzval 58 lens and, more seldom, when I felt nostalgic about the early Lomo days, a Lubitel 166+. Film-wise, it always depends on the light. But generally for indoors, Kodak Portra 400. For outdoors, either Kodak Gold 200 or Fujicolor C200.
All of the interesting people you’ve featured in this series also share their personal stories about Berlin with you. How do you get them to be comfortable to work with you in this way?
I feel like it’s very hard, I’d say almost impossible, for me to shoot without creating a bond with the model. There are no sessions without long chats or where I feel like I can’t relate to what’s been discussed. So, I guess, it’s never really much of an issue.
We know it’s hard to pick just one, but do you have a favorite photo/shoot so far? What makes it special?
Absolutely impossible, I’m very sorry to disappoint you. We’re also taking about more than 60 photoshoots (I’ve actually lost track). I know it sounds like a cheesy cliche but every session is special in its own way.
Berlin Kids has become both a book and an exhibit. Can you tell us more about those?
In February 2019, 16 months and 20 kids after starting the project, I realised I had created enough material to showcase. That’s when the B L N K D Z #meettheberlinkids exhibition took place. Since I could print only a limited amount of pictures and captions, I thought a book could be the perfect tool to give a better, deeper insight on the project.
Before the whole corona-madness started, I was planning on a second exhibition for Summer 2020. I guess it’ll have to wait.
How did your models respond to the idea and success of the Berlin Kids? What has the project come to represent for them?
I had some of the sweetest reactions. In quite a few occasions, after we were done with the shooting, I remember some kids being like “YEYYY, I’m officially a Berlin Kid!”
There’s definitely some pride, that could come from being recognized from the guerrilla stickers around town, or from the nice words of a stranger who reaches out to tell them how relatable their words are. I find it very heartwarming.
What is/are the most important lesson/s you learned while doing this project?
It showed me once more that, as soon as we let go of prejudices, we actually have much more in common with each other than we can possibly think of. On a more personal level, I have to admit it made me way more confident and aware both as a photographer and as a human.
While COVID-19 keeps most of the world homebound, you must still be planning for the soonest you can resume shooting for this project. Can you share with us what’s in store for the Berlin Kids?
So far, Berlin has been a bit of safe bubble. The restrictions were never as strict as elsewhere because the situation never really turned dramatic. Which also meant that, after a month-long break, the lockdown started to loosen up, and I went back to shooting with obvious precautions. What to expect? Follow the #meettheberlinkids hashtag, stay tuned and you’ll see!