My plane arrives at night and seems to land in a dark desert. On the road that leads to the town, the sun finally arises to unveil wide yellow fields, then a mountain wall, tinted with pink. The capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, snuggles at its feet. This landlocked region of Central Asia already gives my amazed eyes a feeling of eternity : as if everything has always been there, still, sheltered. This subtile mix of nostalgia and hope, this sweet melancholia, never left me during my four months of travel.
I am in Kyrgyzstan to document its vagrancy, this country on the outskirts of global headlines is torn between the burden of its soviet past and modern westernization. There is a gap between an aging population still nostalgic for the time of the USSR and a connected youth who remain disillusioned. While approaching the themes related to this territory, I wanted to point out the existential struggle regarding our relationship to the past, present and future, and the individual’s anonymous position in globalization.
I have never felt farther from the rest of the world than during my few days in Min Kush, and yet so close to the world’s history. Min Kush, the city of a thousand birds, frozen in time and in the cold of December. The first day, I couldn’t take any photographs because of the density of the snowfall.
Min Kush was built in 1953 by the USSR to mine the surrounding uranium. It was a secret city, protected by check points one hundred kilometers away, nobody could gain access without being allowed to. The town, under the warm soviet blanket, was very wealthy, importing caviar and champagne while the rest of the country lived under miserable conditions. Those days are now past.
Hidden and stuck in a valley, Min Kush looks as isolated as it is desolate. Most of the houses formerly painted are now decrepit, shadows slide from time to time between them, like blots on snow, blemishes on a very white skin that life hasn’t (yet) taken away. What can seem extremely ominous reveals itself with a certain faded beauty, where solitude becomes sweetness. I still dream of this city as a fallen El Dorado with a brutal authenticity, where I come across coal miners walking endlessly to a far away mine, a doctor tied to this place like his first love, two men celebrating a birthday, drunk to death at 3pm.
Despite their contextual importance, these landscapes show how man can adapt his environment to his own wishes yet his surroundings always win out in the end. They show the passage of man, the wear they put upon their environment. In essence, they represent the fleetingness of man
Text and Images © Elliott Verdier