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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This entry was written by Christine , posted on Monday March 26 2018at 03:03 pm , filed under documentary, film, street photography, travel . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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