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PORTFOLIO

25.09.2020

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Sandwiched between two large neighbours, Russia and China, Mongolia – one of the least populated countries in the world – is living a veritable shadow existence. Even so, the photographer and film maker Sven Zellner has fallen captive to this country of vast steppes in north-east Asia, capturing new and intense impressions each time he visits. His photo reportage about a nomad family living on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, delivers a raw and unembellished account of the reality of life for adolescents on the edges of the big city.

What characterises daily life for people living in Denjiin Myanga?
The people live in traditional yurts made of felt (ger), and small houses on fenced-in plots (khashaas). The roads are unpaved, the water supply depends on wells, and the toilets are latrines. The winters are very tough –  Ulaanbaatar being the coldest capital in the world. There’s a coal oven for heating and cooking in every ger, but in many cases they burn plastic. People survive in very bad living conditions and there’s heavy pollution in the air.

Who are your protagonists?
Tsogbayar is fifteen years old and has five siblings. Their father left a long time ago, and they live alone with their mother, Byambaa. She works in a beauty salon, so she’s rarely at home. When I first met Tsogbayar, he had a swollen, black eye. He was out with his older brother, Tögi (16), his youngest brother, Batholboo (8), and other kids from the neighbourhood. They had their fighting dogs with them and were setting them against each other. His younger sister, Hongorzul (11), takes care of most of the housework, such as cooking and cleaning, while the boys roam around. Their playground is the cemetery next to their khashaa. The boys climb over the walls of the cemetery and play in the old Chinese part, but they keep away from the Mongolian graves, because they’re afraid of the ghosts. The lack of their mother’s presence during the day, means that there is no protection for the children all day. They own a total of six adult dogs, to prevent unwanted visitors from entering their khashaa.

What did you learn from the project in Denjiin Myanga?
I was able to practice being patient. Above all, I learnt that I couldn’t plan everything as I had imagined. You have to take things as they come, and you shouldn’t get angry if things go differently to what you’d hoped. (Interview: Danilo Rößger)

All images on this page: © Sven Zellner
Equipment: Leica M (Typ 240) with Summicron-M 35/2 Asph


Please find more images and a detailed interview in LFI 7/2020.
© Martin Kosok

Sven Zellner

Zellner studied camera at the University of Television and Film in Munich, and published his first photo book when he was 22 years old. He is the producer and cameraman for the film, Schwarze Milch, directed by Uisenma Borchu, and celebrated his documentary feature debut as director of the movie Preis des Goldes (Price of Gold). His photographs have appeared in Geo, Terra Mater, Die Zeit and SZ, among others.

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