In February of this year, I decided to go to Mongolia. I had nothing better to do, and I had a friend there, so I thought it would be fine. It was! It was also extremely cold. If I walked outside without protection on my hands and ears, they would very quickly start to freeze off, the blood inside them burning sharply and the muscles tense. Walking around, frost quickly built up on my eyebrows and eyelids. Thankfully I had a huge white fur coat with me, and the whole city has centralized heating, so I survived. However, in the whole month I was there I rarely felt compelled to step outside unless absolutely necessary. As a result, I didn’t take as many picures or videos as I would have if the weather was less extreme. The following are my notes, written at the time, on what I would have photographed if it wasn’t so damn cold.
There’s some cars but barely any people. The orange light of dawn and dusk projected on buildings new and old, far away and close up. The shadows bare tree branches make on their facades. Ice melting. Paint in the process of peeling off. Long shadows. Ice built up in windows, steam bult up in windows. Incomplete close ups of store signs. The main square, bare except for some silhouettes crossing it in the distance. The whirring sound of the cars’ breaks as they turn in different directions; the wind. The distant, distorted sound of advertisements playing on the big screen. A looping jingle. The sound of birds chirping. The sound of a single set of steps, close and far away. Over all this, an unknown narrator recites the lyrics of a pop song in the tone of a confession.
Close up, still shots of museum items, each shown 4 seconds at a time. Prehistoric stones, knives, steel nails and other objects. Parts of traditional dresses of various colours and styles. Skulls. Engraved stones. Pots and pans. Games. Illurstrations. Guns. Photographs. Ideally go to as many museums as possible, old and modern, and make a montage that mixes all the closeups. Over this, the drony machine noise you can hear in the National Museum, going up and down in intensity, and over it another, different narrator, this time reciting a children’s story.
Still shots, 10 seconds each. Camera at 1mt height tilted slightly up. Mongolian people, 3 mts away, standing still, towering over the camera, with different urban landscapes towering behind them. 1-3 people per shot, standing slightly off-center. They are just standing and looking at the camera with an ambiguous expression; not smiling and not serious; questioning, like waiting for something. Variety of people, ages, genders, outfits, lights and background buildings. Over this, a different narrator recites a boring article from the English language national newspaper. Is there one? If not, a press release from the government; something that illustrates the vibe of the official state line.
A dark room with a single colored light. Uudee’s band is setting up. When they are ready, cut to black. Fade into a close up shot of whatever is the first instrument to play. As they play the song (the one that is purely instrumental with kinda dramatic rhythm changes), the camera slowly pans across every instrument and outfit (except people’s faces), trying to keep the same motion speed. Ideally the single light in the room slowly changes color. Over this, apart from the music, someone talks about a dream they had.
It’s not the only project I planned but didn’t actually go through with on this trip. The motorcycle life in Mandalay, Myanmar is absolutely insane, with vast amounts of people transporting various pieces of furniture, bulky utensils, entire shops, and up to four family members on the back of these flimsy scooters. a friend drove me around in her scooter there, so I took a few pictures, but I only stayed in the city a few days, if I’d been there longer I would have tried to photograph that extensively.
I was only in Moscow for one full day (visa reasons), and walking around the centre, I found it rather grim, businesslike. That is until I stepped into the Lenin Library; a palace of marble and wood with extremely high ceilings where very curious individuals gather. There were retirees in pajamas there, there were young students with fashion styles that were hard to categorize, fashionable and strange individuals all around. The huge glass windows also provide beautiful portrait light. The flights to Moscow are cheap from home so I trust they will still be there when I come back sometime.
Those are the main ones, but there are many more ideas I didn’t fully explore. I’m in America now, and once I get a sense of a place I will try to manage my projects more attentively. Hopefully that will mean more consistent, coherent work.