Putin Fan Club | Photographing Russia's Personality Cult

Hungarian photographer Bela Doka has travelled the world in pursuit of thought-provoking photography, capturing people from Cuba to Burma and beyond. We catch Doka in-between journeys and talk to him about his work, and the Putin Fan Club project, which portrays a young Russian generation devoted to their country’s controversial leader.

Hi Bela, thanks for joining us for this interview. What do you care about the most when taking photographs?

The thing I care the most is that it’s my own idea when I take photos and enjoy the process. In the last few years, I’ve only been focusing on personal, mostly long-term projects.

Tell us about the Putin Fan Club series.

I photographed the Putin series in 2007, as an assignment for a Russian magazine. I worked with a fantastic assistant who helped me get full access to these young people’s homes. I loved the banality of the idea, and tried to capture it as something of a strangely personal, home and fashion project, without dealing at all with the political aspect. I was simply interested in having a personal look inside these young people’s lives.

What’s the next big project we can expect from Bela Doka?

My next project is called Studio Panindigan. I spent 4 months in a remote fishing village called Panindigan in Palawan Island, Philippines. I set up a makeshift studio in my neighbor’s yard and invited the locals to portray them. I treated the series like my own private movie casting as I found that some of the people really had movie-like characters (at least I had that feeling). I had a great time with these people in my studio. It is a totally personal project, and I went back again this year for a few weeks more to complete and hopefully publish a book on the project.

How would you describe the current photography landscape in your country?

I stopped commercial photography in the last few years, pursuing my hobby-architecture projects, building and designing guest houses once a year, which allows me to be free from the world of photography.

Tell us your favourite book (and it doesn’t have to be about photography!).

There are too many to list!

What’s the single most valuable piece of advice you ever got?

As Lee Freelander once said ‘Do what you have to do!’

All photographs © Bela Doka Words: Bela Doka/Ewa Bianka Zubek

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