When I first set foot in Mongolia, I was immediately overwhelmed. A strong feeling of freedom grabbed me right away. Mongolia is called the land with no borders and it’s true that as soon as you leave the city, there’s only immensity in front of you.
For this trip, I took a bag full of films & my medium-format camera, a Mamiya RB67. That’s a really big & heavy camera. Anyone that knows it will tell you the same : this is more a camera for studio work than for travels. Nevertheless, it made my physiotherapist rich and it gave me one of my best photographic experiences. I must also say that until that time, I used to be shy and not dare take portraits of people I didn’t know. I had always the feeling they would think I was just stealing their photographs before disappearing. With a camera like that, this just can’t happen. Because the camera is big and unusual, you can’t be discreet- so you play the opposite game. You take it slowly out of the bag and patiently point it in front of the person you want to photograph. And you smile. The good thing with that camera is also that it immediately draws attention and curiosity- somehow, it creates a bond between the subject and the photographer.
I must also say that the Mongols welcomed me wonderfully. They have, like most Asians, a much better attitude than Europeans towards their photography being taken. I remember distinctly the first portrait I took: a woman and her child who were sitting on some stairs. I struggled with my shyness and managed to come and ask them in whatever language I could, if I could photograph them. After they had agreed and the photograph had been taken, the most surprising thing happened: the woman thanked me warmly. I was astounded.
I really fell in love with Mongolia. They are still today an example of another way of life. Nomadism has managed to survive and spending some time with nomads can be one of life’s best lessons. Sadly, more and more Mongols are now trying to move to the city, dreaming of an easier life but most often just finding a lousy parcel in the suburb, with the disadvantages of both lives: unemployment & crime, without the comfort of the city. Also, it was dreadful to hear that the nomads and their flocks are suffering a lot from the draught caused by the lack of rain, a relatively recent phenomenon in Mongolia. One doesn’t need to be a scientist to figure out that this is due to global warming, paying the cost of all the excess of the western world.
I asked the Mongols their mailing address to send them a copy of the photographs. For the nomads, there were some strange addresses in a village they go to on regular basis. Sadly, I will probably never know if they actually got them.