Fan clubs are big business around the world. Members spend millions on merchandise and trip conventions, where they are united through the collective glow of adoration for anything from Star Trek to sausages.

But in the suburbs of Moscow, a group of fresh-faced students wearing bright orange t-shirts can claim to be part of one of the world’s most unusual appreciation societies.

Since the members of this club have an average age of 18, it would be reasonable to imagine the object of their devotion to be a boy band or a hot new film star. But no, the 1,500 members of the “VV Fan Club” have a more heavyweight idol—the Russian president, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

The teenage members of the VV Putin fan club idolize their president as a savior. In their eyes, he is far away from the growing threat to democracy and global stability that many (both inside and outside Russia) portray him as.

Many of the female members of the group venerate this clean-living, strong and strangely handsome president as a father figure—or even as an ideal husband.

“He is the perfect politician, sportsman and family man!” gushes Vika Matorina, 18.

I spent 2 weeks with the VV fan club and was surprised by the level of support for Putin, whose image appears on posters above the student’s beds, on badges, and superimposed over the Russian tricolore hanging next to makeshift shrines.

They spend hours chatting on the internet about their hero and even go to university wearing Putin T-shirts. I was really shocked at how they could feel such intense love for him.

—Bela Doka


Editors’ Note: Don’t miss the work of all the other winners and finalists from the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2014. In total, you’ll find 31 visually inspiring works from across the world.

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