Portraits of Russia’s Most Successful Women

Behold
The Photo Blog
March 14 2013 11:00 AM

Portraits of Russia’s Most Successful Women

Moscow. Irina Balakina is the director of Factiva, a Dow Jones & Reuters Company, for Russia and the former Soviet Republics. Abandoned by her husband in 1993, she was forced to sell her fur coats to feed her daughter. She joined Reuters as a receptionist and from there rose through the ranks. In 1998, Russia was gripped by a financial crisis, but not Irina, who signed her first major contracts. Photographed here in the restaurant Turandot, which has been refurbished at a cost of $50 million, a world record.
Moscow. Irina Balakina is the director of Factiva, a Dow Jones & Reuters Company, for Russia and the former Soviet Republics. Abandoned by her husband in 1993, she was forced to sell her fur coats to feed her daughter. She joined Reuters as a receptionist and from there rose through the ranks. In 1998, Russia was gripped by a financial crisis, but not Irina, who signed her first major contracts. Photographed here in the restaurant Turandot, which has been refurbished at a cost of $50 million, a world record.

Paolo Woods/Institute

The photographer Paolo Woods began a career as a photojournalist, in his words, “rather late.”

He isn’t in a rush to catch up, though he has rapidly built a portfolio of fascinating and deeply researched projects around the world including Iran, China, Afghanistan, and Russia.

Woods worked in the fine art world (he ran a gallery in Florence, Italy) before dedicating himself to photojournalism in 1998. Much of his work has been part of a 10-year worldwide collaboration with the writer Serge Michel; they have published four books together.

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“I work in blocks,” Woods said about his process during a call from Haiti, where he is currently based. “A subject interests me, I do a story about it, which is eventually a magazine piece, and then part of that story becomes part of a bigger story that eventually becomes a book and a show. I call each of the stories ‘bricks’ that construct a bigger story.”

Moscow. Alexandra Marinina is a former detective and lieutenant-colonel in Russia’s police force and is Russia’s most-read novelist. She has written 30 detective novels in the last 13 years and bears a close resemblance to her heroine, Anastasia Kamenskaya, the only difference being that Anastasia is one dress size slimmer and has a driver’s license. Photographed here in her office.
Moscow. Alexandra Marinina is a former detective and lieutenant-colonel in Russia’s police force and is Russia’s most-read novelist. She has written 30 detective novels in the last 13 years and bears a close resemblance to her heroine, Anastasia Kamenskaya, the only difference being that Anastasia is one dress size slimmer and has a driver’s license. Photographed here in her office.

Paolo Woods/Institute

In 2006 and 2007, Woods and Michel found themselves in Moscow after an attempt to focus on the dictator of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov or Turkmenbashi, was thwarted at the last minute.

At the time, there were many stories about the new wealth in Russia, most of it focused on men. Woods prides himself on trying to home in on what isn’t necessarily in focus and started to look at the women who were beginning to thrive in Russia’s new economy.

“It’s never about doing a story for tomorrow’s paper,” Woods said. “It’s always about something that is interesting to us. … I want to be completely independent with the way the story is done.”

“We saw a lot of women who were in business and we thought it was an interesting story because it seemed a little bit less glamorous than the other stories about the men who were tycoons with young models as their girlfriends. We wanted to see how the women were approaching [success in business]; they were colorful and told something different about Russian society than their male counterparts.”

Moscow. Irina Eldarkhanova founded Confael, a gourmet chocolate factory, from scratch in 2001. At its height, Confael employs around 500 people. She also owns an exclusive restaurant in Moscow where every dish (veal, duck, fish, and even brie) is served with chocolate sauce. She poses here in her restaurant with Irina Ponarovskaya, a singer from the Soviet era, and with a white chocolate Venus.
Moscow. Irina Eldarkhanova founded Confael, a gourmet chocolate factory, from scratch in 2001. At its height, Confael employs around 500 people. She also owns an exclusive restaurant in Moscow where every dish (veal, duck, fish, and even brie) is served with chocolate sauce. She poses here in her restaurant with Irina Ponarovskaya, a singer from the Soviet era, and with a white chocolate Venus.

Paolo Woods/Institute

Moscow. Olga Pleshakova runs Transaero, Russia’s second-largest airline after Aeroflot. Founded in 1991 by her husband, the company owns 20 planes and was the first Russian airline to buy Boeings. Photographed here in her office.
Moscow. Olga Pleshakova runs Transaero, Russia’s second-largest airline after Aeroflot. Founded in 1991 by her husband, the company owns 20 planes and was the first Russian airline to buy Boeings. Photographed here in her office.

Paolo Woods/Institute

After an initial contact with a friend of Michel’s wife, the duo began interviewing and photographing a variety of women who had risen through the ranks and created their own success stories.

“It was much more based on merit and hard work and seemed more of an honest approach; the money they had was the money they made; that was our criteria,” Woods said about the subjects. Over a two-year period, Woods and Michel took about three trips to Russia, spending a few weeks at a time building up the portfolio they eventually called “Nouvelles Russes.”

For the series, Michel would interview the women first, which would allow Woods to hear their story, look around their world, and begin imagining where they should take the portrait.

The portraits in the series are elaborate and filled with so much information they appear to be almost staged, but Woods said nothing is further from the truth.

Moscow. Anna Belova is the deputy director of the Russian Atomic Energy Agency and is responsible for the restructuring of the entire nuclear sector. She has been charged with the creation, from the hundreds of institutes, civilian companies and former Soviet production units, of a single integrated agency to be called Atomprom, on the model of Gazprom, which will be the country’s second-largest export industry after oil and gas. With a background in engineering, Anna Belova has already overseen the comprehensive restructuring of the Russian rail industry, which has 1.6 million employees. Mother of two, Belova is the perfect wife and an active sportswoman: She has recently developed a passion for motor racing. She is a role model for Russia’s professional women and runs, among other projects, the Committee of 20, a lobby that advocates for a greater role for women in Russian business. Photographed here in her racing car, Formula Russia.
Moscow. Anna Belova is the deputy director of the Russian Atomic Energy Agency and is responsible for the restructuring of the entire nuclear sector. She has been charged with the creation, from the hundreds of institutes, civilian companies and former Soviet production units, of a single integrated agency to be called Atomprom, on the model of Gazprom, which will be the country’s second-largest export industry after oil and gas. With a background in engineering, Anna Belova has already overseen the comprehensive restructuring of the Russian rail industry, which has 1.6 million employees. Mother of two, Belova is the perfect wife and an active sportswoman: She has recently developed a passion for motor racing. She is a role model for Russia’s professional women and runs, among other projects, the Committee of 20, a lobby that advocates for a greater role for women in Russian business. Photographed here in her racing car, Formula Russia.

Paolo Woods/Institute

Moscow. Yana Rutskovskaya founded and runs the company Grand La Scala (100 employees), which owns beauty salons and luxury boutiques in Moscow and southern Russia. Photographed here in front of her car, opposite her beauty salon, Frank Provost.
Moscow. Yana Rutskovskaya founded and runs the company Grand La Scala (100 employees), which owns beauty salons and luxury boutiques in Moscow and southern Russia. Photographed here in front of her car, opposite her beauty salon, Frank Provost.

Paolo Woods/Institute

“I don’t take props or style them; I don’t tell them how to dress. I think that would not have been interesting to me because I’m trying to hold up a mirror to something I’m seeing and learning about.”

Working on a long-term project like those Woods develops is complicated primarily from a financial angle since pay from magazines would hardly pay the bills of a two-year project, but it’s a risk Woods is willing to take.

“We reached a consensus between us that we could always work longer on a project like this … but we felt we had a wide range of subjects and businesses and ages and then we said, OK, we should probably stop here,” said Woods. “We are both unsatisfied with what we’re doing: We always want more!”

Moscow. Ilse Liepa is a celebrated ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet. Liepa danced a legendary Carmen and has given definitive performances in roles from the Firebird to Sheherazad. She runs a foundation dedicated to her father, Maris, a star of the Bolshoi during the Soviet era. Photographed at home.
Moscow. Ilse Liepa is a celebrated ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet. Liepa danced a legendary Carmen and has given definitive performances in roles from the Firebird to Sheherazad. She runs a foundation dedicated to her father, Maris, a star of the Bolshoi during the Soviet era. Photographed at home.

Paolo Woods/Institute

Moscow. Renata Litvinova is an eccentric Russian film star. She graduated in 1990 from Russia’s Film Institute and has written scripts for several prize-winning films in Russia and at the Berlin and Venice film festivals. She has acted in films by cult directors like Kira Muratova and Peter Greenaway and has directed films herself. She presents a number of television shows and is sassy, funny, and occasionally rude, but at all times glamorous; she is also an ambassador for the Swiss watchmaker Rado. Photographed here in the Club Bentley, transformed for the day into a television studio.
Moscow. Renata Litvinova is an eccentric Russian film star. She graduated in 1990 from Russia’s Film Institute and has written scripts for several prize-winning films in Russia and at the Berlin and Venice film festivals. She has acted in films by cult directors like Kira Muratova and Peter Greenaway and has directed films herself. She presents a number of television shows and is sassy, funny, and occasionally rude, but at all times glamorous; she is also an ambassador for the Swiss watchmaker Rado. Photographed here in the Club Bentley, transformed for the day into a television studio.

Paolo Woods/Institute

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