Photographer Anastasia Kuba has lived in the Lower Haight for three years, where she works as a full-time artist focusing on nude portraiture. She was recently featured in featured in Vice for her ongoing series Nothing But Light, in which she explores the concepts of boundaries, vulnerability and consent, shooting people of all ages, genders, and sexualities.
We met up with Kuba to discuss how she makes a living, why she photographs nude portraits, and what she's learned in the process.
When did you move to the Lower Haight?
I'm from Russia, and I've lived in the U.S. since 2002. Most of my time in the U.S. has been in San Francisco—the Mission, Outer Mission, and then here.
I've been in the Lower Haight for three years. I used to be in a band with musicians who are now my roommates, so before I moved in to the house, I was spending a lot of time there. We play Russian and Eastern European folk music. It's the house where people play accordion on the stoop. That's my house, and those are my people.
When did you start photographing nudes?
I started with nudes as soon as I picked up the camera. I used to be a topless dancer in my early 20s, which is when I started shooting nudes. Mostly, it was because I could.
In 2008, I started working as a boudoir photographer and was highlighting sexuality. I was wondering what sexuality is: where is the performance, and where is the real thing?
Now I know that human bodies carry stories and are about so much more then sex. When I photograph someone, I want to see a person. I don't want to see someone through a specific filter, like how sexy they are, or what they've suffered. I want to see who is in front of me.
In my current ongoing project, Nothing But Light, I photograph people in the most minimalistic way possible: natural lighting, no makeup, no Photoshop.
How do you find your models?
Through Facebook, and personal recommendations.
Where do you photograph?
I rent a space in Bayview owned by Todd Brown, the founder of Red Poppy Art House. It's the most beautiful studio—you walk in and you feel like you're home.
What are some of the challenges of photographing people in the nude?
Trust. When someone comes in, I usually talk to them for 40 minutes—I don't photograph right away. Not just because they're nervous, but because I am. I am nervous every time.
In the beginning, people are uncomfortable, and I reassure them that it makes perfect sense to be uncomfortable while standing naked in front of a stranger with a camera. The discomfort wears out eventually, and things always get better.
How do you fund your work?
I charge between $275 and $750 for a photo session, on a sliding scale, and then they can decide if they want their photos to be published, or they want to keep them for themselves. I also recently ran an Indiegogo for Nothing But Light and raised over $7,000. I used that money to photograph 60 people free of charge, because I wanted to work with all people, regardless of their financial background.
What advice do you have for other artists who want to work in their fields full-time?
You just have to accept the consequences! Mostly financial consequences. No one should go into this without understanding the risks. I'm living the dream, but that dream has a dark side, and that dark side is real. I've been doing this full-time since 2008, and it's never been stable.
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