Karaganda: An editorial travel photo essay for Allied Feather and Down

In November and December I went to Kazakhstan. Partly to shoot personal work, partly for some serious amounts of alone time, and partly because I couldn’t see why not. I roved around from town to town, seeing what was interesting.  I came across a town called Karaganda (Qaraganda) and fell a bit for the idea of it. Industrial in the middle of nowhere. So I photographed a bit and then came home and worked with Allied Feather and Down to create an essay for them. Eventually this piece went up on their social platforms. I’ve posted bits and pieces on mine as well, but here is the full article.

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Kazakhstan wasn’t exactly built for tourists. It’s remote, visas are a roadblock, and most people can’t even spell it. If they can spell it, the likelihood of being able to point it out on a map is uncommon. I found two native English speakers, and one told me I was the first Western woman he had seen in months. In my opinion, a perfect location to travel.

In Karaganda, the only “tourist attraction” is the Karlag Gulag. Gulags were the Soviet work camps, usually in Siberia and other equally remote, daunting places. Famous for death marches through harsh climates to get there. And yet, Karaganda was so remote and so harsh, that nearly a million people were exiled here. The gulag is a ways out of town and fenced off. Arriving only to allow you to be a voyeur and let your imagination do the rest of the tour. The whole experience is so untouristic that I didn’t even know it existed until after I left.

Astana is known for it’s futuristic architecture.

Baikonur is home of the Russian space program.

Aralsk has a disappearing sea of salt.

Almaty is where apples originated.

Karaganda is home of _______ ? Mining? One of the largest gulags? Bad air quality? Being the exact middle of nowhere?

In America one might say your car was parked in BFE, you left your wallet in East Jabip. In Soviet days, if you car was far away, your grandma’s house way outside of town, they would say it was in Karaganda.

When you live in a city that is considered to be the literal middle of nowhere, there comes a specific quality about it. Or maybe when you live in a city with such bad air quality from mines and factories, you become depressed yourself. The air is thick with pollution. So thick you can taste it. The snow is black. The landscape dismal. The loneliness of the remoteness settles in a bit deeper here, to the bone nearly.

You taste it when you step outside. You taste it in the water. You take it in deep as you sleep. I think if I were to cry here, my tears would be black. I bought toothpaste and it was black. I am sure it is just as black inside these thin walls of houses close to the factories as it is outside of them. The inside walls weep the same black sludge that the fallen snow quickly turns to. The literal middle of nowhere, and a black sky to match the black name.

It’s lonely to be so remote. Even in a city of a half million. There seemed to be extra people sitting alone on benches, people perfectly spaced far apart so they would walk alone. I checked into the hostel I was staying at and was given a key. The workers left to never be seen again and I was the only guest for days. I suspected weeks. I walked down empty streets, went to an empty mega super market, and returned to my temporary empty home to make Thanksgiving dinner.”

 

 

 

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Black toothpaste

 

The train from Astana to Karaganda

 

 

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Pipes outside an apartment complex outside of town

 

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A girl traveling from her new home of Astana to see her parents in Karaganda.

 

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An empty compartment on the train

 

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A women walking in the city center of Karaganda, still laced with Soviet murals

 

Wild dogs outside the coal factories skirting around Karaganda.

 

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A boy and his sled.

 

 

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The black skies of Karaganda. No world pollution index has listings for anywhere in Kazakhstan.

 

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Morning light in my empty hostel.

 

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Kitchen interior

 

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A man burning trash in a new suburban housing development.

 

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A snowy road leaving Karaganda

 

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An elderly man waiting for the bus

 

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Storage outside of a grocery store in town

 

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Massive Kazakh flagpole

 

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Furthest building to the left, four floors up is where I stayed.

 

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Recent Work for Kinfolk and Sundance Mountain Resort

Sometimes I am good at showing recent work, but other times I am better at showing personal work. This past photoshoot for Kinfolk Magazine felt like a perfect combination of the two. The day after I came home from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, I was asked to head over to Sundance Mountain Resort for a photoshoot. Never before had I spent so much time doing personal work and then immediately jumped into a commercial shoot. Especially a commercial shoot with as much freedom as this one had. It felt like a continuation of the light and dark study that I had been exploring for the previous month of travel, all using natural light. Luckily, the client wanted the exact mood I had been focusing on every day for the pervious month and it felt like the perfect collaboration.

To see the entire story, you can check out the article on Kinfolk. Or to see more collaborative work I do, you can visit my website. Especially this past food and travel project with the Waldorf Astoria and James Beard Foundation.

 

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Posted in: commercial, food, interiors, lifestyle, travel, utah by Christine No Comments

Horseback Riding in Mongolia: Utah Editorial Photographer

This past summer I got to go on an incredible journey– horseback riding in Mongolia. We began the journey at the base camp of Horse Trails Mongolia. Off the airplane and straight into a ger. In fact, we got off the plane in the tiny Ulaanbaatar airport, and didn’t see any sign of civilization for nearly a week after that. A quick mini-market stop on our way to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, and that was about it. It was just us and our horses. We entered the park and loaded up our horses for the trek.

Horseback riding through the Mongolian steppe was one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done. I know that is a bold statement. But I haver never had such freedom on a horse before. I’m not even crazy about horses. It was incredible though to be given this wild animal and the ability to go wherever we wanted. Fast, slow, up a hill, through a river, whatever.

There was endless landscape. Every corner we turned, there were endless valleys, endless mountains. Climbing to a peak, you look down into six different valleys to choose from.

The horses were a bit wild. A bit like the American Mustang. Kind of tamed, but also they very much had a mind of their own. It made the riding a bit dicey at times, but overall it was enjoyable. Wooden saddle and all.

We stated in gers (Mongolian yurts), we camped in tents. Food was eaten by a river or with a nomadic family. It wasn’t always pretty, it wasn’t always comfortable. But somehow, it reminded me of why I love traveling. Something about the remoteness, the roughness, the bizarreness of the place. It was a catalyst for Kazakhstan. A big reason why I felt the need to travel alone this winter. I am excited to go back to Mongolia this summer and see how it makes me feel the second time around.


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All images taken on Kodak Portra 160 or Kodak Ektar 100.

Christine Armbruster is an Utah editorial photographer. She travels to world creating commercial images for clients.

Posted in: adventure, travel by Christine No Comments

Editorial Photographers Feature: Christine Armbruster Photography

This last month I was featured in Cada Dia un Fotografo! This publication is a catalogue of editorial photographers and fine art photographers from around the world. A Spanish language blog, each day they feature a new photographer. Last month, my editorial photography was highlighted. Cada Dia un Fotografo wrote a little feature on me and linked back to a handful of other places I have been published.

The image they featured is from a series I did eight years now (Happy New Year!). This series was called “Mortar Shells and Cigarettes”. Taking place in Sarajevo, I spent over a month wandering the streets of the beloved city. Documenting life in the 15 year anniversary of the war ending. To see more of the work from the series, head over to my website to check out the photo essay. And be sure to head over to Dada Dia un Fotografo to see this feature and many others!

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Editorial Photography: Christine Armbruster Photography

I have a new gallery of editorial photography on my website! There are some old photos and some new ones on there. Images from past adventures as well as some work for editorial pieces I’ve done over the last year or so. It will be a blend of some lifestyle photography, editorial photography, and outdoor photography. Let me know what you think! Feedback is always welcomed.

I have a little calendar that I work on bigger goals throughout the year, piece by piece. Revamping my website was a goal of last year and I just put it on the calendar for next year. Be looking for more updates, new galleries, and some personal work!
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Posted in: announcement, editorial, lifestyle by Christine No Comments

Editorial Food Photography for MisAdventures Magazine

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“On Signagi’s main street, wines glitter like jewels in their makeshift bottles — soda, water, even mustard.”

Nearly two years ago, writer Jen Kinney and I went to Georgia and Armenia in search of a story. We weren’t sure what kind of story, or what we would even find there. Ultimately we stumbled upon one of the oldest wine making traditions in the world. Growing over 500 varieties of heirloom grapes, and harvesting them to make homemade wine in the basement. It is a tradition that dates back for years. In an attempt to create government wine programs, the USSR made homemade wine processing illegal. Many people shut down their home wine cellars by filling them in with soil, only to be recovered years later, full bottles and all.

“Christine stands, lost in thought, eating a clutch of grapes. When she’s exhausted all the dull little globes, she flicks the spine into the apple trees outside our guest house door. It hangs in the air a fish skeleton, and lands out of view beneath the heavy boughs.”

During our trip to Georgia and Armenia. We found stories, we made images. And then we did not know what to do after that. I have done bits of work for MisAdventures in the past, and they contacted me to see if I had any editorial food photography I could include in their printed magazine. Each issue they have a food section. Sometimes featuring recipes, sometimes featuring food adventure stories. In the summer 2017 issue, our story was featured.

“Christine and I, frequent travel partners, are tired and full with the traditional Georgian dinner they’ve served us: soapy white cheese that squeaks in our teeth, salt-encrusted fish, a salad of cucumber and tomatoes too spicy for us to finish, a bowl of grapes for desert. Now our host points to a tree hearty with tense green balls the size of eggs. He pinches off two and crushes them together against his chest until they burst their shells and give up two pale, green, thumb-sized brains. “America, America,” he says, and we eat the ripening walnuts. This young, they are not just rinsed with bitterness, but bitter through and through.”

It was a bit of a strange story. It was a bit of a strange trip. Jen sums it up beautifully (all quoted lines in this post are from her). She explores tradition and what is feels like to be a foreigner in a place you know nothing about. I will post a handful of images below. Some where used and others were not. But for the words, you will have to find the article in print.

“Then, wandering the streets of Telavi at sunset, a woman gestures to us from the second-story balcony of a tilting, wedding-cake house. “Coffee?” she offers. We follow her… [the family] smile at us gently, like we are strays they have not yet decided to keep.”

 

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Sea Kayaking Greece: Utah documentary photographer

Over the summer I got the chance to travel with the Girl Scouts of America to Greece. I have had the opportunity to guide trips and photograph them for the Scouts for the last handful of years. These girls aren’t just from Utah, but from all over the country. We spent the week sea kayaking around Kefelonia and Ithaca. Camping, staying in small towns, and eating the most delicious food. It’s great to spend the time with the girls, but also feels like I’m on a documentary photography vacation. Being able to photograph whatever I want, however I want. It feels like a week or two of developing my style and doing personal work. Here are a few images from the week that I was particularly fond of.

This was my second time in Greece. I finally felt like I got it this time. I think my first trip to the country, I was stressed out about the girls and couldn’t relax and take it all in. This time around, I am hooked. The amazing food, the shark-free crystal clear waters perfect for open water swims. I would easily return to this country over and over again.

 

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To learn more about the trips, you can visit the ATS website.

 

Christine Armbruster is a Salt Lake City, Utah documentary photographer. She creates editorial style travel photography, going around the world to make photojournalistic images for commercial clients in the outdoor and food and restaurant industries. To see more of her work, visit her website.

Posted in: documentary, film, Greece, travel by Christine No Comments

New Website Update: Travel Photography

By this point, I think this travel photography update might be old news. I spend most of my summer traveling heavily. Heavily as in seven countries over the course of three months. With the exception of one trip through the Alps where I hit multiple countries in one go, each country was for at least a week if not longer. Trying to stay in one place or do one activity to really get to know a location. If I had my way I would spend a month or more in each place. But perhaps that will be saved for more travel this fall or spring.

 

At some point along the way, I updated my website. It’s a bit of old news now that I have a million more photos to go through and do another update. In the meantime, go check it out. The portion I updated was my travel photography section. It involves images from here and abroad. Go check it out before it all changes again.travel photography, travel photographers, utah travel photography, utah travel photographers, salt lake travel photographers, commercial photographers, local commercial photographers, salt lake commercial photographers, utah commercial photographers

Images from my website. Locations from left to right: Alaska, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Utah, Iceland, Russia, Washington.

Posted in: announcement, travel by Christine No Comments

Marketing Materials for Hanz: Utah Commercial Photography

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Over the last year I have been doing a lot of work for Hanz. Traveling from Alaska to Lake Powell to photograph, I have had the opportunity to photograph their products in a lot of places and in a lot of different settings. If you haven’t checked out their products yet, I would recommend it. Totally waterproof gloves and socks. The added bonus is that the gloves are not only touchscreen, but they are touchscreen gloves that actually work.

 

I’ve been a part of a revamp they have done on their website as well in marketing materials. The first image is from their website. The remaining images are from marketing materials I picked up at Outdoor Retailer last month. I will be a bit sad to see OR move to Colorado next year. It has been a really great experience to talk to many different companies. Over the last couple years I have been able to meet with people I have only e-mailed with and see them on a bi-annual basis. Looks like I will have to go to Colorado twice a year now for the show!

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To find out more about my commercial photography, please visit my website www.christinearmbruster.com

Posted in: commercial, publication by Christine No Comments

Utah Documentary Photography: Population 800 on The American Guide

During the Great Depression, the US government created handfuls of programs to help keep people employed. From these programs, railways were built, public lands maintained, and a major project was undertaken called “Federal Project Number One”. This project consisted of five categories: art, music, theatre, writing, and a historical records survey. The most famous of the Federal Writers’ Project was a series created called “The American Guide Series”. Each state created guidebooks on their home, employing over 6,000 writers and photographers. The books had history and cultural aspects, as well as common touristic automobile tours, important attractions, and photo essays.

 

There is a group creating their own modern version of The American Guide Series. It’s a website, undertaking a spin-off of the original Guide. Using documentary photography works from various photographers, they have created an on-line catalogue of places and events across America. It’s a fun way to digitally explore areas before you visit, or find places you’ve never heard of before. Oh, and why you’re at it, check out the write up they did on my small towns project in Utah, Population 800.

 

Population 800 is a personal project I have been working on for the last seven years. If you want to see more work from my project, you can find it on various other blog posts and galleries. A couple examples of where to see the work in the past and present: