Experience Life in Kyrgyzstan through the Eyes of Travelling Analogue Photographer

Located in Silk Road in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is home to just over six million people and one of the world’s poorest countries. Austrian photographer and geographer David Schermann, equipped with an analogue camera, spent nine days capturing the rugged land and its people, resulting in his series: Open Land: Kyrgyzstan.

Since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the mountainous country has experienced political and social instability. However, what David found was a country of warm hearts, open minds and little hesitation to be welcomed into conversations and homes.


We sat down with David to hear about his travels and the heart-warming stories of the people of Kyrgyzstan.

THE PLUS: What drew you to travelling through Kyrgyzstan?
David Schermann:
Besides photography, I also study geography at the University of Vienna. We went to Kyrgyzstan to study plate tectonic processes because it is often struck by earthquakes.

TP: Why did you choose to shoot analogue only?
When I’m travelling with my digital camera, I tend to shoot hundreds of photos. I have it always in my hand and never want to miss a good photo. It can get pretty stressful. That’s why I decided to just shoot film this time. You can shoot only 36 photos per film, so every photo you take should be carefully considered. It makes the process of photographing slower, you have to take more time for yourself to shoot a photo; thinking about the motive, the right angle and so on.


TP: Did you have any preconceived expectations of what the country would be like and did they match what you actually experienced?
I thought it would be a poor country, but one with welcoming people and, of course, a spectacular landscape. And it actually did match all three expectations. Yes, the people there are poor compared to our western standards, but they are also very welcoming to strangers and very talkative!

TP: Tell us about how you were received when first arriving in Kyrgyzstan.
To be honest, the Manas Airport is like any other airport in the world. Except the lack of other tourists maybe. I think people in Kyrgyzstan are not used to seeing many tourists. We were often standing on the side of the roads and talking about landslides and every time a car was passing us by, it slowed down and the people in the car would wave at us.


TP: How you were affected by seeing what life is like there?
I knew that Kyrgyzstan has different living standards than Austria, so it wasn’t hard to cope with it. It’s different, for sure, and it takes some time to get used to it, especially using toilets and showering. But that’s what travelling is about. You adjust to the customs and circumstances presented in the country you are travelling in. At least for me, this is the way to experience a different country.

TP: You mentioned the political and social instability in Kyrgyzstan – in what ways did you see its effects?
I didn’t see any unrest or stuff like that. Kyrgyzstan is much more stable now compared to nine years ago during the Revolution of 2010. But still there are ethnic tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Also, corruption is still present. But I never felt unsafe in any way during my stay in Kyrgyzstan.


TP: What is your most memorable story from this trip?
One of my favourite moments was when we wanted to watch a football match (it was Kyrgyzstan versus Palestine) and we had absolutely no idea how to get tickets. I think we looked so lost that a young Kyrgyz psychology student decided to help us. Apparently, we were at the wrong gate and together we ran around the whole stadium to get in, just in time for the national anthems.

TP: Many people are afraid to travel in areas that have a history of unrest. Do you have any advice for travelling through Kyrgyzstan or similar areas?
As I said, I never felt unsafe during my time in Kyrgyzstan. I travelled in a big group, but I think it’s also save travelling alone. Everybody seemed so helpful! But what to bear in mind is that the infrastructure in Kyrgyzstan is not greatly developed. We drove most of the time on mud roads in the middle of nowhere. So my advice would be drive carefully and have a mobile phone with you with a local SIM card to call for help in the worst case. Also, almost nobody speaks English (the official languages are Kirghiz and Russian), so better take a small dictionary with the most important words with you. You should rent a car to get around, it’s way easier than taking a bus. Wild camping is allowed, just be mindful. And visiting Son Kol Lake and sleeping in a yurt is a must! Just be aware that it’s located at 3016 m.


TP: With so many places to see, how do you choose where you want to go next?
It’s hard to say! But I travel to places I always wanted to go. Maybe it sounds strange, but I always attach special emotions to places I’ve never visited before. For Kyrgyzstan it was the feeling of vastness after seeing those beautiful landscapes. My next stop would be Seoul I think. Because I always wanted to visit this bustling High-Tec city.

Open Land