I’m digging through the archives today selecting images for an upcoming exhibition in Almaty, Kazakhstan. A couple of years ago I remember sitting on a bus in my boxer shorts, sweating, being watched by an entire bus full of Mongolians making the long trip from the Bayan Olgii region of Western Mongolia back to Ulan Bataar, the capital. It was -20 degrees outside and I was sitting on a radiator with a sheep on my lap. The journey took almost a week non-stop.
The view from Kwanduk’s house, Bayan Olgii, Mongolia
I had been in Bayan Olgii, deep in the Altai Mountains to shoot a feature on Kazakh Eagle Hunters. These diaspora Kazakhs had come over the border at the time that the Soviet Empire had pushed down into Kazakhstan. As Kazakh culture gradually dwindled in Soviet Kazakhstan, these people kept hold of all their traditional cultures. Kwanduk, whose family the story focused on, owned two magnificent golden eagles and would go out early in the morning hunting rabbits, foxes, wolves and marmots. The fur is used to make the infamous Kazakh hats, whilst the meat is fed to the eagles.
Kwanduk surveys the mountains whilst out hunting with his golden eagle. Bayan Olgii, Mongolia
In the evening the family would sit around and play dombra, cooking mutton and melting ice water. Soon after the trip I made a short multimedia piece just setting some of the photographs against music I recorded whilst I was there. Looking through this old hard drive I wonder why I don’t have more images but I remember now that I only took one 4gb memory card with me, which probably would have been enough for about 120 frames. The audio is recorded on a toy voice recorder as well, I think it cost about $10 but I really like the warmth of it and it sounds like my memories do.
About James Morgan
James is a multi award-winning film director and photojournalist. His in-depth photographic features have appeared in National Geographic, The Guardian, BBC, Sunday Times and many others, while his film work spans features, documentaries, commercials and music videos with clients ranging from Sony and Adidas to Vice and Mercedes Benz. James is represented by both Panos Pictures and Getty Images in London and is a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers. Find out more about James and his work.