French photographer Elliott Verdier travels to the remote central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan to capture an ex-Soviet country struggling to find a national identity in a globalised world

The Muslim cemetery of Balykchy, on the western end of lake Issyk-Kul, the second-largest high-altitude lake in the world. Eighty per cent of Kyrgyzstan’s population is Muslim.

Horses in Karakol, the fourth-largest city in Kyrgyzstan, near the Kazak and Chinese border.

Two abandoned Moskvitch cars in Min-Kush, a city built by the Soviet Union in 1953 to mine uranium. Surrounded by checkpoints, the city was rich, enjoying champagne and caviar, while the rest of Kyrgyzstan lived in poverty.

A child at an orphanage in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital. Parents who are too poor to care for their children often abandon them. This orphanage takes care of its charges until they’re 16 but many orphans then fall into crime and addiction.

Captain Boris Vassilievitch Tchoumakov, who oversaw Balykchy’s port organisation during the Soviet years. Currently used as a testing ground for Russian military hardware, it is now forbidden to sail on the lake, though it used to be essential for trade between Balykchy and Karakol.

The bulb factory of Mailuu-Suu. Established 40 years ago after the closure of the region’s uranium mines, the factory – once the second largest in the USSR – is still running today. Poor management of the mines has made the town one of the most polluted places in the world.

Workers in a concrete plant of Balykchy. Once one of the most industrialised cities in Kyrgyzstan, as with many places in the country Balykchy struggled following the fall of the USSR, with almost all its industrial facilities having since closed.

A coal miner in a pit in Tash- Kumyr in the west of Kyrgyzstan, near the border with Uzbekistan.

A worker at Mailuu-Suu’s bulb factory who has been employed there since the factory was established by the USSR to keep people busy and save the city from being abandoned.

A retired miner from Tash-Kumyr in his home. With 34 years of experience, including 26 under the USSR, he witnessed the collapse of the mining organisation when the USSR fell, and his work became more dangerous as a result.

 The landscape around Tash-Kumyr, bearing the scars of coal mining.

Elliott Verdier

Atomic Mountain: Uranium in the Sudetes

Photographer Michal Sierakowski recalls travelling across Poland to document the post apocalyptic-landscape of the Sudetes mountains for his acclaimed ‘Uranium’ series

Back in 2013, I found out that Poland used to be one of the biggest suppliers of uranium ore for the Soviet Union, and I found the story incredibly interesting. The Sudetes mountains were at the centre of this industry, and have been a centre of mining itself in the region for over 800 years. When I arrived on location for the first time, I didn’t find it very interesting, so I kept going back until I found something that caught my attention, shooting on a 4×5 large format camera so I could slow the process down and think about each and every frame. I needed to ‘dig up’ the interesting things from a mostly uninteresting landscape, bury it behind the picture, so the viewer could dig it up again. I wanted to hide the topic, just as the uranium is hidden beneath the mountains.

I wanted to find out more about the people who had populated the area in its heyday, so I decided to visit a regional branch of the National Atomic Agency – a small office from the 1970s. The lone staff member seemed surprised in my interest in the topic and eagerly pointed me in the direction of museums and a few contacts. They reminded me that over the last 60 years, most of the miners and engineers had long since passed away. However, one person that was still alive to tell the story of the area was the former director of the secret R-1 industrial works, which searched, mined and enriched uranium ore.

Abandoned quartz quarry
Abandoned quartz quarry

Involved in uranium mining since the early 50s, he told me much about Soviet bureaucracy and the business of industry in the area. Polish miners, he suggested, were only contracted to sell ore that yielded at least 0.2 per cent of uranium by mass and were paid for only this amount. So when the miners happened to find pitchblende – a radioactive mineral and ore yielding up to 60 per cent uranium – they simply crushed it and mixed it with regular rocks, until the final mixture yielded exactly this percentage of uranium required. Of course processing pitchblende would be easier, but rules are rules….

Meanwhile, in the 60s, when the facility’s giant waste tips were being recycled to produce gravel for roads, locals joked they didn’t need street lamps, because the roads themselves glowed. The locals still tell tales relating to the pre-war German presence, and to the numerous Nazi underground facilities which are located in the nearby Owl Mountains. There’s also a lot of stories about people going into the woods of the Sudetes and never coming back; in general the atmosphere of the place is really mysterious.

Michal Sierakowski is a finalist for the New East Photo Prize, hosted by Calvert 22 Foundation

Photography Michal Sierakowski

A Farewell to Upton Park



Photographer Marcus Drinkwater returns to the former home of West Ham FC meet the local residents and businesses affected by the club’s move to London’s Olympic Park

I’ve been a West Ham fan since I was a child. My dad used to take me to home games in the late 90s and The Boleyn Ground (aka Upton Park) just captivated me. There was something about the imposing nature of the Bobby Moore Stand and the atmosphere the fans created when they would sing ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.’

I recently completed my degree in documentary photography at the London College of Communication and West Ham’s last season coincided with my final major project. It seemed like fate, so I set out to document the community in the last year at the Boleyn Ground and it took the form of a mock programme.


The community that gravitated to Upton Park has been forged over 112 Years. I feel I had to do it justice by documenting its swift change beyond recognition, so I travelled to every home game and watched the games in the working men’s clubs where the sense of community was so strong. 

West Ham’s impending exit from the stadium brought everyone together, but it was bittersweet. It allowed fans to reflect on what the ground meant to them and to swap stories and memories; there was great sadness in leaving, but also a growing optimism for the future of the club. The closure will affect the community greatly; it would be fair to say that many businesses, such as the Boleyn Tavern, have survived there so long because of the match days.


East Ham Working Men’s Club has lost its biggest earner, too. It was adjacent to the stadium, which meant that fans would meet there before a game. When I photographed one of the ‘Tea Dances’ the club holds on Thursdays for the local pensioners, they expressed great concern about the club’s closure. If it shut its doors, they would have nowhere to socialise and see their friends.

This is the story of London epitomised, it’s an area and a place steeped in tradition with strong community links. It’s an area that’s being demolished to make way for luxury dwellings that none of the current residents will be able to afford.

London is losing many of its communities, while property developers hold the cards. For me this is just the beginning, the area continues to change and the story will change with it. Maybe after the flats are built the area will see a resurgence. Only time will tell.

The Eye of Modern Mali

Gallerist and curator André Magnin reflects on the genius of Malick Sidibé, the photographer who captured the energy and optimism of 1960s Mali

I have always been the closest collaborator of Malick Sidibé’s until his death in April this year. I had organised many exhibitions of his work around the world since 1994 but there has never been a solo exhibition of his works in the UK. When Somerset House and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair approached me to curate this exhibition during the fair this year, I gladly accepted.

The display includes 45 prints which are divided into three themes. Nightlife in Bamako was made between 1963 and 1965 – these photographs exude the energy and optimism of that euphoric moment in a country rejoicing in the wake of independence. The following series, Beside the Niger River taken in the 1970s, shows young Malians at their leisure enjoying outings by the beach, while the final section, The Studio, consists of more formal photographs taken at his studio between the 1960s until 2001.

The design of the gallery space replicates the look and feel of ‘Studio Malick’ with a distinctive black-and-white patterned vinyl flooring, which can be seen in many of his portrait photographs. In addition to this, a gallery soundtrack has been specially curated for this exhibition by DJ and African music expert, Rita Ray, to recreate the sound and spirit of the nightclubs where many of his photos were shot, and his own studio, which was described as often being “like a party”. The soundtrack will feature an eclectic mix of music and urban sounds to which Sidibé’s photographic subjects may have listened, from the rock ‘n’ roll, pop songs and fusions of the continent in the 60s and 70s to timeless Malian roots music.

Malick Sidibé was well known by ‘le tout Bamako’ (the people of Mali’s capital city), as an excellent photographer and reporter. He was invited to every family meeting or surprise party, which enabled him to document these occasions at close hand.

He found international recognition in the 1990s when he received prestigious international awards, including the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Biennale and the World Press Photo award. Thanks to this recognition he became one of the most emblematic figures of photography in Mali, and in Africa.

All of the young people in his images lived through the period of growing independence and increasing cultural exchanges with the West through music and fashion. His images have inspired a lot of young artists who replicate and re-interpret the movements, the position of the characters in the studio, and the clothes worn in his pictures. His photographs are an exceptional testimony of the life of the young and vibrant generation of Bamakois in the ’60s.

The exhibition, Malick Sidibé: The Eye of Modern Mali, runs at Somerset House until 15 January 2017

Borderland: the edge of Russia

Photographer Maria Gruzdeva recounts her journey along Russia’s 60,000 km border – the longest national border in the world

Coming from a Russian background, I am very much interested in contemporary Russian identity and the fragments that shape it – collective memory, the history embodied in the surrounding landscape, the iconography, local traditions and industries, and, of course, the people.

Those living beyond the Arctic Circle have a completely different way of life compared to those living in the Caucasus region. I started wondering what it feels like living on the edges of such a vast country: where does the physical and emotional feeling of belonging come from; how is it connected with the notion of land and territory; and how does it influence our identity?

As well as pointing out the geographical and consequential differences, this project is as much about finding the similarities and unity among them. Territory is something so earthy and solid, yet abstract at the same time, like the borders themselves – they exist, yet they are not material or tangible. Their physical, but most importantly, non-physical qualities make them so interesting and intimidating to explore and document.

Border territories are a representation of the cultural and political symbols we embed in the surrounding landscape to mark the territory that relates to, or signifies, our identity. This is not just the key to understanding national identity, it is also key to understanding the world around us.

Boys waiting to perform a national dance, Abkhazia - Maria Gruzdeva
Boys waiting to perform a national dance, Abkhazia – Maria Gruzdeva

The people I photographed were very helpful – I have a feeling that they wanted their input into the project, not only by becoming part of it and being photographed, but also by helping me find my way, by simply giving me a lift, offering a place to stay, or telling me about something fascinating in the local area that I should not miss.

I remember developing the film after my first trip and looked at my contact sheets, I was a little perplexed. I had all this information written down on different bits of paper I had with me during the journey, so I had to go through them and gradually restore the details. I realised I needed a thorough system of recording this information, a structure to hold all this together. That is how my notebooks came into the process.

Gradually, as well as putting down pure facts and cut-outs from my contact sheets, I also started writing down the stories people told me, as well as things I encountered, my own thoughts and experiences. It adds another dimension to the work in general: a deeper and more detailed exploration of these border areas.

Maria Gruzdeva’s BORDER: A journey along the edges of Russia is out now via Schilt Publishing

Fine and Dandy: Brighton Photo Biennial 2016

Andy Warhol curatorial fellow Shantrelle Lewis shares some images from her Brighton Photo Biennial 2016 show ‘The Dandy Lion Project’

First curated in New York in 2010, I created this platform not only in attempt to create discourse around modern black masculinity, but to celebrate well dressed black men. While many men wouldn’t identify themselves as ‘dandies’, they do connect with language that describes their status as dapper, sartorial, classic men.

The UK premiere of the series at the Brighton Photo Biennial further nuances the conversation with the addition of images of cis-gender, masculine of center, queer women, along with additional photographs by some internationally renowned photographers.

While I’m love with every single image in the show, I’d have to say that I’m most excited about Baudouin Moaunda’s photographs of the Congolese sapeur, British-Ghanaian photographer Arteh Odjidja’s Stranger in Moscow series and South African Harness Hamese’s images of the vintage clothing collective known as Khumbula. But I’m also just as enthused by the images taken by Daniele Tamagni, Omar Victor Diop, Rog and Bee Walker. Each image is simply just that fine and that dandy.

The Dandy Lion Project is on display at the University of Brighton Galleries on Edward Street, Brighton, UK, until 30 October 2016

Interview Jack Morrison

Edward Burtynsky: Essential Elements

Canadian photographer, artist, and environmental activist Edward Burtynsky discusses the development of his photography and how it helps draw attention to climate change

No two people see the world the same way and in the same sense no two photographers, no matter their inspirations, their tutelage, or even their subject matter, will produce the same image. Many of my contemporaries have been inspired by the same people I have. But I have and had first-hand experience working in heavy industry, which informed an experience and a perspective that was unique to me. My personal history with industry, my deep appreciation for the vast Canadian landscape I was born to, the knowledge of the scale and collective impact we are having on nature – all of these things inform the way I see, the way I shoot.

If you look at some of my original work, Early Landscapes in particular, I was very much influenced by abstract expressionism and the painterly styles, techniques and observations of the artists in that movement. Since then, artists and photographers such as Jackson Pollock, Joan Mitchell, Jasper Johns, Ansel Adams, Nathan Lyons, Emmet Gowin, Frederick Sommer, Edward Weston, and Carleton Watkins, have all been influential for their various perspectives and philosophies.

Manufacturing #15, Bird Mobile, Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, China 2005

Very early in my career I realised that simply photographing landscapes was not enough. I had to go to a different place with my work and that place was where humans intersect with those landscapes. That realisation came in the early 80s and everything since then has been a reflection, an observation and an awareness of this industrialisation. I try to make images that are not easily explained away or categorised – they speak to art as much as they speak to the environment.

Look out your window, look out at a farmer’s field, look at the mountains, the lakes, quarries and mines. We have imprinted ourselves so deeply into this earth that I wonder if we would be able to recognise it the way it appeared millions of years ago. Naturally, as a result of industry and unsustainable practices in resource extraction, climate change and environmental damage rise to the surface. They come hand in hand.

Thjorsa River #1, Southern Region, Iceland, 2012

Water is one of — if not the — essential element to our existence. We cannot survive without it and the practices surrounding the resource and its conservation are powerful, complicated, often hazardous. Fresh water is running out. The hydrological cycle is changing with more flooding and droughts than normal. Oceans are warming. Aquatic biospheres are collapsing.

Do you take water for granted? Do you live in a country, a city that suffers from arid climates? Has the coastline of your homeland been devastated by oil spills or the leaching of other industrial toxins? Were you and your family displaced because of reservoir flooding and dam construction? I have brought two children — both young women now — up in this world; I want this environmental awareness to exist, to flourish and to be the driving force for action as much for my generation, as for theirs. It all comes back to awareness, to seeing it right there in front of you. Photographs are compelling storytellers.

‘Edward Burtynsky: Essential Elements’, edited and curated by William A. Ewing is published by Thames & Hudson, available from 15 September 2016. ‘Salt Pans’ and ‘Essential Elements’ will be on display at Flowers Gallery, London, from 16 September – 29 October

All images are (c) Edward Burtynsky, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery, London and Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto

Gregory Halpern: ZZYZX, California

American photographer and Guggenheim Fellowship recipient Gregory Halpern shares the story behind ZZYZX, a visual journey from the Californian desert to the Pacific coast

I like titles that refuse to interpret the work for the reader and in that sense I liked ZZYZX. Its origin is the name of a small desert town, Zzyzx, California (technically an “unincorporated community”) outside Los Angeles. The made-up name was given to the area in 1944 by Curtis Howe Springer, claiming it to be the last word in the English language.

The pictures in the book begin in the desert East of Los Angeles and move West through the city, ending at the Pacific. That Westward pull feels so powerful in American history and literature, and to me personally. And there’s that first, devastating Westward drive, the original expansion of America, which was born in the East and which hungrily drove itself West until reaching the Pacific, thereby fulfilling its “manifest” destiny.

I borrow from the documentary tradition/aesthetic, but the work isn’t documentary or reportage because I’m not motivated by the desire to ‘document’ or the desire to present my images as having any degree of objective truth. As I see it, photographs provide a highly subjective vision, but are often misleadingly presented as a form of objectivity.

At first I was inspired simply by the light, the colours, the extremes. It feels simultaneously like paradise and its demise. I think the pictures evoke something simultaneously contemporary and ancient. In some ways it’s a response to Los Angeles right now. In some ways, it’s not so literal. The space is also somewhat mythical, the timeline somewhat Biblical.

ZZYZX is published by Mack. Available from 17 September 2016

Photography Gregory Halpern

Miles Davis, Modern Jazz & The Ivy Look

In an extract from Jazz Festival, a new photo book by ‘the Father of music photography’ Jim Marshall, writer Graham Marsh remembers the Ivy league-inspired style championed by Miles Davis and other Jazz greats 

For any hipster or Young Turk ‘riding on a blue note’ in the 1960s, jazz festivals were the genuine article. Whether it was at Fort Adams State Park in the resort town of Newport, Rhode Island in August, or at the 20-acre oak-studded Monterey County Fairground in California in September, it must have been something else. Both festivals were like a vinyl record collection coming to life. Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and the endless roll call of jazz luminaries live on stage at Monterey and Newport was an outstanding experience for all those lucky enough to have been there.

You can almost feel the sun’s warming rays and an ocean breeze emanating from Jim Marshall’s evocative photographs in this book. Jazz Festival is not a nostalgic yearning for the past, but a celebration of the continuing cultural craze for all things relating to Modern Jazz and Ivy Look clothing which for some people, who care about these things, is important. Sartorially and musically, both are still intrinsically linked and both are without doubt the essence of cool.

John Coltrane with Wes Montgomery photographed at The Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 24, 1961 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC
Miles Davis, the coolest man on the planet during his Ivy-suited period was probably most responsible for both the ‘look and sound’ of Modern Jazz. The look was predominantly East Coast Ivy League, but the sound was uniquely his own. Miles used to get most of his Ivy clothes from Charlie Davidson’s Andover Shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just off Harvard Square. Davidson was a sort of bridge figure between Modern Jazz and the Ivy Look. As well as Miles Davis, Davidson was a friend of George Wein and Charlie Bourgeois, who were both closely associated with the Newport Jazz Festival, and at the same time to a fame famed journalist, George Frazier 111, himself a well-known connoisseur of clothes and jazz. Indeed, Frazier christened Miles, ‘The warlord of the Weejuns!’ If Miles wore it, it was instantly hip.

In the 1960s, when it came to jazz, style was part of the equation in both clothes and attitude. At Monterey and Newport black culture was openly embraced and integrated audiences were the norm. Nobody cared – as long as you looked sharp and dug the music – anything else was just jiving, there was strictly no room for squares. At both festivals, on any given day it was a sea of Bass Weejun loafers, natural shouldered seersucker jackets, essential Lacoste tennis shirts and Clarks desert boots. Definitely on the money were also button-down shirts, chinos and 501 Levi’s. Topping off these proto-cool clothes was a formidable array of men and women’s hats.

Left: Photographed at Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 21, 1963 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC – Odetta photographed at Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 4, 1960 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC
Left: Photographed at Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 21, 1963 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC – Right: Odetta photographed at Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, CA September 4, 1960 © Jim Marshall Photography LLC
From straw pork-pie snap-brims with deep Madras bands, back-buckle Ivy sports caps and deeply hip berets to Audrey Hepburn-influenced wide-brimmed straw hats and head scarves, plus a confection of chapeaus that would not look out of place on the catwalks of a Parisian fashion show. It was a veritable catalogue of Ivy cool. It was dressing fine, making time and moreover, a visual feast for Ray-Ban and Persol-shaded eyes.

Although the Ivy clothes may have been de rigueur, at the centre of it all was the music. It was Ornette Coleman on stage playing his yellow plastic Selmer Alto Saxophone, accompanied by Don Cherry on Pocket Trumpet. It was John Coltrane endlessly riffing on some standard-issue show tune. Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan paring the music down and laying it out, looking like fashion plates to the assembled congregation. It was saxophone colossus, Sonny Rollins taking care of business, always ahead of the musical curve. His insouciant trademark top button only fastened on his three-button jacket. These musicians were the cat’s whiskers and in mid-20th century America it was Modern Jazz that fused the connection between music and the Ivy Look.

Jazz Festival is out now via Reel Art Press

OAMC AW16: Photo Essay

The luxury streetwear brand brought pop culture references and military details to its Paris presentation

OAMC started out as Overall Master Cloth, a premium luxe version of American workwear brand Carhartt, but Arnaud Faeh and ex-Supreme designer Luke Meier quickly developed the concept, moved on from Carhartt and abbreviated the name. The lack of Carhartt alliance meant creative freedom: no more chore jackets needed. Since the split, Faeh and Meier have pushed the brand in an interesting direction.

It’s very hard to define exactly what they do, but OAMC certainly has cornered the ‘luxury streetwear’ market. Faeh, the former Carhartt WIP creative director who brought about the Carhartt x APC collaboration, and Meier clearly base their aesthetic on pop cultural references and, as is the case with the AW16 collection, military uniform details.

With production in Italy, Japan and Portugal, this is a high-end brand hell bent on making the finest clothes possible, without compromising on attitude and energy. These are clothes you actually want to wear. That might sound obvious, but in the context of ‘fashion week’ that isn’t always the case.

Photography Karl Hab