For generations, Kazakh fishermen have set out on the frozen Ishim River in the hope of catching fish beneath the ice. The Ishim flows through the country’s capital, Astana; a high-rise, futuristic city that was built essentially from scratch in the 1990s, when Kazakhstan started to benefit from the exploitation of its oil reserves. Astana is supposed to be an emblem of post-Soviet modernity, a hallmark of the country’s nationhood.
Many of these fishermen venture onto the ice, braving temperatures that often reach -40 degrees celsius. After Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, north-central Kazakhstan is the second-coldest populated region in the world. While they fish, the fishermen protect themselves from the harsh weather with salvaged pieces of plastic, patched together from discarded packaging or rice bags that you can find outside markets selling western, Chinese and Russian goods.
I was interested in examining the aesthetic forms of these improvised protective coverings and the way in which they function as inadvertent sculptures. I chose to focus on the materials and their surfaces as signifiers of underlying global influence and the improvisation that occurs from economic necessity. Kazakhstan was once a nomadic country, and vestiges of that way of life still exist despite the country’s embracement of modernity. These ice fishers improvise and adapt to their environment in ingenious ways, just as their forebears did.
If you’d like to see more work like this, we’d recommend these previous features: Shepherds, a series that explores how traditions that have existed in Slovenia for 500 years are quickly shifting; Flower Men, striking portraits shot in the renowned Malik Ghat Flower Market in Kolkata; and Virgin Lands, a project that follows former inmates in Kazakhstan as they attempt to acclimate to everyday life.