Mongolia is a large format photography book, and my personal passion project, which tells the visual story of this largely unknown and intriguing country and its people through a series of 185 black & white and color portraits and landscapes. The project has taken me 17 years—and 13 month-long trips to complete.
I first heard about Mongolia from my grandfather when I was around 7 or 8 years old, through his tales as a soldier during World War II. He spoke of how he had been rescued in late 1944—when he was a prisoner of war—by a detachment of Mongol soldiers who were fighting under Soviet command. I remember the excitement in his voice as he explained how he and other British and American prisoners in the camp had been rescued by these massive men from a foreign land. Since then Mongolia has always been on my mind. Those men saved my grandfather’s life—and mine as well.
Many years later, in 2001, I saved enough money from my job as a photo assistant, took a month off, and traveled to Western Mongolia. I spent the majority of that month shooting in the West, attracted by the unspoiled beauty and endless landscapes. When I returned to New York City, I looked at a map of Mongolia and fully grasped just how little ground I had managed to cover during that initial trip. I felt a strong urge to see more: the Gobi desert in the South, the eagle hunters in the West, the Tsaatan reindeer herders in the Northern Taiga, and so much more. That epiphany inspired the idea for this book, which has been a long-term labor of love—17 years in the making.
During all those years and many trips, I covered all of the vastly different provinces of Mongolia in all seasons. Winters—when temperatures dropped to -35 degrees celsius—were particularly challenging, but always the most visually interesting. Cracking ice on a frozen lake while my guide and I were driving over it, sandstorms, and other extreme weather conditions, created unexpected moments that turned into powerful images.
Why so many years?
Because this was my personal project, I wanted to take all the necessary time to express in images the emotions and character of this rugged, and still very mysterious place, to travel deeper into the culture and immerse myself with the people who I felt completely foreign to when I first arrived. It was only after returning again and again, spending the time to observe, learn and understand, that I was able to be forgotten amongst my new friends. Only then I was able to take the photos that would tell this genuine story. Over the years of working on this project, the main goal has become to create a timeless body of work.