From Mongolia – Form and Air

On the last evening trekking across the Mongolian steppes, I peek my head out of the ger, leaving its warmth to feel the arid winds of the steppes on my face. A light fleece bundles me up, breaking the piercing wind on an otherwise warm evening as summer winds down. Long shadows of children run across the dramatic swaths of darkened grassland. A man with a potbelly takes a drag off his cigarette, silhouetted by the dimming sun. I close the door, muffling the sound of the dozen or so nomads talking over the fire of a stove that’s planted in the middle of the ger. The sun drops towards the earth on the other end of the valley as I pause for a moment. I look around, searching my surroundings, until it catches my eye. I walk over and reach down, grabbing a child’s miniature stool, and then trudge towards the setting sun.

I walk for a minute and stop, I look back and pause; the lively sounds of the ger are silent, the sliver of firelight from the crack in the door is gone, the children’s shadows look like mirages in the dark, and the man with the potbelly is just a deep red speck in the dark steppen canvas. I turn back around and in front of me is an empty landscape, windswept and flat, with small hills slowly running up on each side of the horizon and anchored with a small outhouse in the middle ground. The air gets colder by the minute as the sky darkens, the sun highlighting the clouds in bright oranges and purples resting over darkened greens. I sit for a minute with no obligation and just stare. I pull out my sketchbook and prop it up on my knee. I pick up my camera and put the viewfinder to my eye. And then… nothing.

No familiar click of the shutter, no subsequent LED screen lighting up my face as I wait on it to show me what it captured, no poring over that image and thinking of a second exposure. I rest it in my lap, hand firmly gripped on it still, and just stare, back hunched over, balancing myself on the small stool. My eyes dart back and forth between the everything in my periphery – The wide panoramics, the shadows streaming along the smooth green hills, and boundless emptiness of the steppes. I lift the camera to my eye again and just stare through it. Silence. It drops once more. A pencil is pulled from my left pocket. it rests it on the sketchpad, the camera is pulled up to my eye once more, and I stare through the viewfinder for a long minute, framing my scene. Silence. My camera drops onto the grass beneath me and I begin to sketch.

Mongolia does not lend itself to the 4×6 frame. It does not fold itself down to fit in the constrained rectangle of the flat image. It’s stubborn in that way; But through my camera is largely how I’ve come to understand and engage with the world around me. With Mongolia, like with everywhere else, I used my lens to interrogate the landscape, figuring out Mongolia by finding a way to fit it into a 4×6. 

Photography, as a practice, is one in empathy; And the camera, as Susan Sontag says, is the acquisitive arm of the consciousness. With both these ideas in motion, my camera slows me down and forces me to come to terms with every place in its uniqueness – It’s my practice of process. I try my best to find the identity of anywhere I go, as it truly is in character and form. Yet, Mongolia, with its unbounded formlessness, challenged me to find its visuality. With great difficulty and subsequent gratification, I found it. The following is Mongolia.

 

 

 

1. Entering the Brutalist City

 

 

MBW-101
Airport #1

 

MBW-102-168
Brutalist City

 

MBW-102-179
Brutalist Study #1
MBW-103-176
Brutalist Study #2
MBW-105-180
Sunday Afternoon in Mongolia
MBW-116-178
Lunch in Mongolia
MBW-118
Mongolian Pilaster
MBW-121-166
Kapaoke

 

 

2. The Steppen Family

 

 

MBW-122
Family Portrait
MBW-126
The Horse Herder
MBW-127
Friends
MBW-130
The Adults Are Talking
MBW-131-154
Afternoon on the Steppes
MBW-131-165
The Matriarch

 

 

3. The Ger

 

 

MBW-132
Dining Room Chair
MBW-134
The Stove
MBW-135-115
The Pantry
MBW-137
Mongolian Recreation Area

 

 

 

4. The Steppes

 

 

MBW-139
Ger
MBW-143
The Steppes
MBW-144
This Is How He Chooses To Pose
MBW-150
The Horse Rider
MBW-153
Dusk

 

 

 

5. The Desert

 

 

MBW-191-202
Gobi
MBW-211-214
Dunes
MBW-211-227
Desert Detail
MBW-212
Desert Oasis
MBW-213
Desert Kitchen
MBW-224
Camel
MBW-226-255
Saddle Detail
MBW-252
Gobi Rider
MBW-261
Gobi Father With Son
MBW-265
Desert Salesman (1)

 

MBW-268
Desert Salesman (2)

 

 

 

 

6. Desert Town

 

MBW-206
Desert Exterior #1
MBW-207
Desert Exterior #2
MBW-208
Desert Exterior #3
MBW-210
The Bathroom Attendant
MBW-269
White Modern #1
MBW-270
White Modern #2
MBW-274
White Modern #3
MBW-275
Storefront
MBW-279
AT
MBW-281
Desert Geometry

 

 

 

7. Leaving the Brutalist City

 

 

MBW-287
Peeres Cosmetics
MBW-289-304
City Detail
MBW-293
Temple #1
MBW-295-299
Temple #2
MBW-297
Temple #3
MBW-300-292
Prayer Wheel
MBW-307
Airport #2

 

All photos taken and copyrighted by Stephen Pearson.

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