Uzbekistan, another one

As I go through my collection of photos from Uzbekistan, I find every day some more material that illustrates the point in my earlier post.

Horsing around ⎟ www.alexnitzsche.com ⎟ © 2014

Uzbekistan: an easy attack on the senses

Last October, I was lucky enough to visit Uzbekistan again. This was my fourth time to the country. During these stays, which were always in the context of one or another contract for the OSCE, I was able to see a good deal more there than the average visitor. Sure, Samarkand and Bukhara were also on my route, even several times. But I also made it to Khiva, which is a bit more off the beaten track, and to the shores of what-was-once-the Aral Sea.

documentary, people, Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is an extremely picturesque place to visit. It is filled up to the brim with ancient history and amazing landscapes. It features deserts, mountains and ancient towns (several of which feel like open-air museums). It is so attractive to the casual visitor that it is very hard to see beyond the easy beauty and spot a bit of real life.

During my latest visit, I was determined to peel off this superficial layer, at least photographically. As much as possible, I tried to stay clear of the tourist locations and concentrate on the people I would encounter. I ventured out into the darker alleys and entered small shops, internet cafés and backyards. Even though the result is still meagre in comparison to what dedicated documentary photographers can portray, I feel I was able to catch a glimpse of real Uzbek lives. This was worth the effort.

Dushanbe Bittersweet

Am finally getting round to editing the footage I took over the years. The process of putting together a more or less meaningful video is considerably more involved than editing a set of photographs, but in many ways it is the same experience, plus audio. The question I regularly face is: where to start? How to connect the pictures to create a coherent piece that isn’t contrived and perhaps even conveys a certain emotional quality. As with everything, one gets better at it the more one does it, but the beginning is like staring at a blank piece of paper, not sure about the first word.

One clip I wanted to put together for a long time is a short portrait of the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe. During the two weeks I spent there – in spring 2012 – I used to walk the city regularly and photograph and film everything that went on around me. I had no particular plan what I wanted to convey with the pictures, or how I wanted them to be assembled. Only in the editing suite was I able to finally establish some sense of order.

Dushanbe, waiting at the airport

5 March 2012, 12.23pm. After two weeks in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, where I worked and photographed – if that can be separated – I am waiting for my flight out. Already for 12 hours, since the initial flight out in the middle of last night was cancelled.

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Melancholia – this is the term that most easily springs to mind when I try to find a word that reflects the Tajik state of mind. Desperation could be another one, given the dire economic situation of so many here, the fact that one million males have to regularly migrate to surrounding countries – mostly Russia – because they cannot find work at home, or the general disrepair of most industry and infrastructure. And there is that, of course. But whilst pacing the capital city, I did also encounter happy people, with a smile on their faces and bantering with each other. No, aside from these happier moments, it is melancholia that describes it best.

There is a certain placid and unenergetic way of doing things in Tajikistan, it seems. Hurry or anger I have not encountered very often. And yet, the country has experienced a bloody civil war from which it emerged – without large-scale foreign intervention! – some ten years ago. There is much more to identify and to describe of this not so little country north of Afghanistan and west of China, all but forgotten by the world. But PhDs have already been written, the international media came and left, and aside from a handful of international organisations there are now only the Pamir tourists that come and explore the Tajik ways – and, more importantly, mountains. So they are largely left to their own devices, and whilst things could definitely be better in many ways they are coping, a little bit sad and quiet, but authentic.

This little bit boy was sitting next to me whilst I typed this article, waiting patiently with his father for I don’t know what. And now they are calling my flight.