Laurent Chardon stated that as young man he was fascinated by the photographs of Mongolia and in the winter of 2002, he had an opportunity to investigate the memories of his youth, as well as the current culture. It may not have been the experience that he had anticipated.
Like many of those who travel and immerse themselves into a foreign culture, he was a stranger in a strange land, and further disoriented by the current conditions he found. He quickly altered his photographic frame of reference, employing tools that might provide him with photographs that were more in line with his observations and experience.
His black and white photographs are grainy and have a high amount of contrast, which combine to create a darker narrative. The details within the photographs are not sharply delineated, abstracting both the individuals and the landscape. Who the people of this region are remain elusive to the reader, as they are usually rendered as black featureless silhouettes. They do not appear as people, but abstract symbols that inhabit a barren landscape.
Without providing a sense of their individuality, Chardon indicates the presence of people, but not as individuals, but more as temporary and elusive inhabitants. People are usually visible with their heads bowed down, whether as a result of the weather, to ensure their footing on an icy and tricky terrain or representative of their mood in general.
The dark corner frame vignettes create a claustrophobic feeling that the landscape, perhaps similar to the picture frame, is collapsing and closing in. I have a sense of restriction and that space is limited. Something dark and menacing is lurking in this place. I do not perceive feelings of joy or an uplifted spirit, but of a gloomy melancholy that is foreboding and sobering.
A high-rise structure seems lonely and repressive and not a place that you would find in a travel brochure. Perhaps this feeling is due to the overcast skies of the winter season and the gray and dirty snow, nevertheless, it seems to be a place without trees, bushes and other vegetation. The structures appear cold, both in environmental conditions and in spirit. In another similar photograph, small individual structures are situated in the foreground at the base of a rising multi unit building, probably creating a future vision for those living independently. This is not inviting location, but a place only suited for survival.
One urban landscape photograph documents a mash-up of tents and permanent structures, with the inter-structural spaces between them now being occupied by thin fences. These fences are borders and boundaries, which I find to be odd for a nomadic people who had previously experienced unlimited space as they had previously moved freely about.
The concluding photograph is a sea of thin trees, with a backlit sun casting long radiating shadows. The trees appear very lonely in the otherwise desolate snow-covered terrain. I sense that this stand of trees represents the thin and dwindling spirits of the once nomadic individuals who now endure living in this region.
The text for the essays is printed in French, with an English translation insert available on request when purchasing the book
by Douglas Stockdale