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My relationship with the Mongolian nomadic families began with my 2002-2004
explorations of the landscape of the Gobi Desert and the search for ancient
standing stones of the Deer People and the Turkic People.
During this process, I discovered the richness of the hospitality of the
nomadic families. In the evenings, arriving at a ger (the Mongolian portable
round white tents), surrounded by their herds of goats, horses and camels,
I was invited to stay, to eat and to sleep. They generously shared their
hand-made noodles with air-dried goat meat cooked over the central dry-dung
fire and their alcoholic fermented mare's milk. After the communal meal,
the music begins, with singing and playing of horse-head adorned string
instruments. The “LONG SONG” primes a voice to travel through
the vast spaces and the “THROAT SINGING” evokes the spirits
of their ancestors. Here I had the privilege to photograph the interiors
of these round one-family-one-room abodes with the south facing door,
northern altar and memorabilia.
In the morning, as a token of my appreciation, my gift to the family is
a 4x5 Polaroid family portrait, which is added to their treasured collection
on the wall.
I realize that there is an anthropological wealth in these families that
may indeed be threatened as Mongolia head towards urbanization and as
the mining industry offers jobs that will draw families away from the
pastoral nomadic traditions. I plan to spend time and photograph with
each family in the different geographic landscapes of Mongolia. In Bayan
Olgii, Western Mongolia, the Muslim Kazakh herders have their own style
of gers and hunt with eagles. In the Gobi Desert, the one-line horizon
is dotted with camels. In Ondorkhaan, Eastern Mongolia, families camp
around a lake of healing waters.
To facilitate this project in a land without roads, the Mongolian Ambassador
to Canada, Galsan Batsukh is very enthusiastic and supportive. My main
guide and contact person is Dr. Nyamkhuu, Director of Epidemiology in
Ulaan Bataar, who has worked with me on my previous visits. The expedition
is further enriched by the involvement of the local doctors in the small
communities. Generously letting me have the use of their immunization
vehicle and driver, they often come along and do their medical visitations
to the families. Their presence ensures such good will from the families
Many nomadic families are involved and many miles of Western, Central
and SE Mongolia are explored. I photograph with my 4x5 view camera in
black and white with the Polaroid positive/negative film. My prints are
20x24” archival silver-gelatin fiber-based or 30x40” digital
based permanent carbon-ink prints.