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 immunizationvehicle and driver, they often come along and do their medical visitations to the families. Their presence ensures such good will from the families visited.
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.
— Elaine Ling