A constant dilemma of any post-colonial society is the constant reduction of their culture into a singular narrative. Spanning across Africa to Latin America to Central Asia, we constantly see the same portrayal of these cultures with adventurous Western photographers tending to be the main storyteller instead of allowing local voices to thrive. Uzbekistan is no different in this matter. The Central Asian country is constantly treated to the same narrative of a post-Soviet, despot-controlled country, replete with bridenappings, magical men on horses, and Instagram-able mountain ranges housing radical Islamic terrorists. In doing so, the wealth of thirty-two million stories is ignored, much to the detriment of Western audiences.
With a photographic community that dates back to the 1880’s, Uzbekistan has a steep tradition when it comes to the long lens. Present day Uzbekistan boasts a strong collective that, in the face of little to no financial backing, looks to support one other through social media channels. Photographers attend their contemporaries gallery showings and promote each other online, to the elevation of everyone’s work. The result is a wealth of talent that has largely been ignored to the exclusion of a few. Each individual photographer is showcasing the polyphonic identity of Uzbekistan as a remarkable religious, linguistic, regional, and politically diverse national that goes far beyond that singular voice presented in Western media. We’ve put together a list of some of our favourite Uzbek photographers, although acknowledging that there are plenty more. Please, make sure to follow them on social media!
Aleksey Tudakov has long been one of the main organizers and proponents of Uzbek photography on the Internet. He directs Facebook pages 500 Straight Photos and Youngphotouz, along with his own page. Tudakov’s own work is a masterful display of capturing seemingly mundane events, and then distilling their magical design and colour. A well-travelled photographer, his work spans far beyond his home in the capital, Tashkent, but he still takes time to pay homage to the city he loves so dearly.
Anton Papin is a photographer that looks to capture the streets of Tashkent in his own unique fashion. In a city of 2.3 million people, Papin’s work has a tremendous capacity to capture those rare moments of solitude that individuals have. Finding individuals in wide open spaces like large roadways and parks, his work gives a sense that the city provides momentary relief for its citizens to pause and find themselves in the rush that is modern day Tashkent.
Diana is an actor/ballerina/photographer that splits her time between St. Petersburg and her hometown of Tashkent. Such is our love of her work that we included her in our list of favourite Russian photographers as a shout out to the multiculturalism of the Russian photo scene, but Uzbekistan is home for Diana. Her work largely resides in street photography with her lovely interplay of shadows and colours that gives Tashkent an element of fantasy to it.
Photography’s history in Uzbekistan dates back to the 1880’s as said before when a German Mennonite school teacher started to share his skills in Khiva. Ildar Sadikov’s work has an amazing ability to capture some of that lingering essence with his work that focuses upon the older areas of Tashkent. Largely operating in black and white, he showcases a society that has survived throughout socialism and the turmoil of the post-socialist years. It exists as a reminder that the past is never that far behind and the past can still assert itself in certain pockets of the city.
Hassan Kurbanbaev has attracted perhaps the most Western interest, with his work capturing the often-ignored youth population of Tashkent. His images help challenge the well-worn portrayal of Uzbekistan as merely a distant land of horsemen and poverty. He offers a fresh approach by showcasing a culture that is vibrant and complex. The stark portraits of Tashkent’s youth population has led him to be featured in numerous Western press outlets, most notably while photographing Russian DJ Nina Kraviz.