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July 19, 2012
by Jacob Aue Sobol
The Mongolians

I arrive in Ulaanbaatar after four days on the train. It’s a relief to get off and be amongst people again. The Mongolians. I feel it right away. These people are proud and strong, but they’re also caught in a strange connection between the present and the past.

During my six-day stay in Ulaanbaatar, I’m invited to go on a hunting trip in the surrounding mountains.

It reminds me of my life in Greenland. When I was 23-25 I lived in a small settlement on the East Coast of Greenland where I was trained as a hunter. The relationship you build with nature as a hunter has had a big influence on my life and work. Meeting the Mongolian hunter, I immediately felt like putting the camera on a shelf and picking up a rifle.

One of the hunters shoots a deer. He slaughters it, and we eat the warm raw liver and drink the fresh blood together. The same rituals. The same respect for nature as in Greenland.

My days in Ulaanbaatar are passing fast. I walk the streets, and when I get lonely, I ask if I can come inside people’s homes. I visit a family of eight living in a traditional Mongolian tent – the Ger. I photograph a young couple in love, an artist, a grandchild caressing her grandmother’s cheek.

The last day I’m at a meat market and the police stop me. They take my camera and tell me I will only get it back if I erase every single image on the SD-Card. It’s completely full – 432 images.

And so I watch them disappear one by one.

When I leave the market I feel awful. The sun’s setting and I lost every single image from my last day in Ulaanbaatar. I sit down on a bench and close my eyes as a group of boys pass me with a basketball. I decide to follow. They run through the narrow alleys and into an open space on top of a hill. This is the basketball court. I play with the boys. I take their portraits. Then I walk back to the hilltop and get a complete view, the boys, their homes and the mountains. Ulaanbaatar.

Tomorrow the train leaves for Beijing.