John Alexander

Generations

Spurred by an enduring sense of exploration, adventure photographer John Alexander travelled to one of the least densely populated regions on Earth – the western reaches of Mongolia – to trace the traditions that lay at the heart of Kazakh culture and to capture the characters that form the fabric of their community. This immersive project began in the bustling capital of Ulaanbaatar from where John headed west, skirting the fringes of Siberia to the north before finally arriving within the desolate plains of the high Altai and the western reaches of the country.

AIBOLAT

Warmly welcomed by the first of two herding and hunting families, John stayed with Aibolat, a proud 19-year-old herder, hunter and head of his small family. Like his fellow countrymen, Aibolat was warm, welcoming and incredibly hospitable. With little time for recreation, he and his younger brother juggle a myriad of tasks to manage the herd and horses within a barren landscape where winter temperatures can plummet as low as -35C. It is during those particularly testing months, when the vegetation is most sparse, that he and his brother hunt on horseback.

SHUTTER SPEED: 1/250 SEC
APERTURE: F/6,8
FOCAL LENGTH: 21MM
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/90 SEC
APERTURE: F/11
FOCAL LENGTH: 45MM

Using a Golden Eagle and Falcon to search and strike prey, they patrol this area, navigating mixed terrain that ranges from frozen deserts, lakes and rivers, to the shale and shingle of the mountain slopes. As proud of their traditions as they are of their horsemanship, Aibolat provides an incredible display, illustrating how he comfortably recovers his (7 kg) Golden Eagle from full flight, riding one handed and while underway.

SHUTTER SPEED: 1/750 SEC
APERTURE: F/4
FOCAL LENGTH: 45MM
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/350 SEC
APERTURE: F/6,8 
FOCAL LENGTH: 45MM

The last of the hunters

This form of hunting has become scarce, with just 90 or so hunters left. However, akin to the people whose tiny settlements punctuate the undulating landscape, pockets of knowledge endure that are passed on, both out of necessity and tradition.

SHUTTER SPEED: 1/2000 SEC
APERTURE: F/4
FOCAL LENGTH: 90MM

BASHAKAN

Arguably this sense of tradition and passing of knowledge is epitomized within the home of revered Eagle Hunter Bashakhan. At 55 years old and host to three generations, he has passed his knowledge to his son with whom he hunts, and in turn, to his young grandchildren as they have recently begun to learn how to feed the Eagles and take their first steps on horseback.

SHUTTER SPEED: 1/180 SEC
APERTURE: F/3,2 FOCAL LENGTH: 90MM
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/500 SEC
APERTURE: F/8
FOCAL LENGTH: 21MM
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/250 SEC
APERTURE: F/11
FOCAL LENGTH: 21MM

Twice a year, he and his fellow hunters come together to give thanks, celebrate their tradition and to battle it out in a series of hunting and horsemanship challenges. Fiercely contested, hunters and huntresses, young and old, gather from across the country to test their resilience and demonstrate their mastery. 

SHUTTER SPEED: 1/500 SEC
APERTURE: F/4,8
FOCAL LENGTH: 90MM

And at the same time, it grants the opportunity to see the next generation as they ride with evident pride.

SHOOTING ON THE X1D-50C

Given the tactile nature of this project, and needing to travel light, John chose the size and portability offered by the X1D-50c.  Offering exceptional image quality and dynamic range, it’s simplicity of use enabled John to focus on the subject and the moment, rather than the system. 

My journey began in the UK, into China, and over land within Mongolia. Whether bouncing about off-road, on horseback or bracing against the wind while perched on a mountain top, the system never missed a beat. Equally given the challenges of altitude, temperature and unrelenting dust, the build quality of the X1D spoke for itself.

ABOUT JOHN ALEXANDER

Brought up on the Isle of Wight, UK photographer John Alexander’s thirst for adventure started from a young age, with much of his childhood spent afloat on the family boat. Formerly a professional mariner and diver, this first career enabled him to sail within many of our oceans and explore its seas, and when ashore, ignited a passion to document rarefied locations and their inhabitants. In time, this path yielded to a new profession, combining his passion for exploration and photography while working on portrait and documentary photography projects on location around the globe. Explore John’s full journey here or follow him at @johnalexanderphotography.

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