Photographer spends 17 years documenting life in Mongolia through all seasons
for the past 17 years through a series of stunning and intimate photographs. His vast archive of images has been turned into a large format photography book that captures the spirit of Mongolia, allowing viewers to explore the vast and rugged country and its people through his careful lens.
After almost two decades of photography, and working on editorial and commercial shoots for brands like Louis Vuitton, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and GQ, Lagrange is ready to show his life’s work and labour of love to the world. His book Mongolia, features 185 photographs captured during his 13-month long trips. The New York-based photographer tells Lonely Planet that he’s been enchanted with Mongolia ever since he was a young boy listening to his tales from his grandfather who spent time there as a prisoner of war as a soldier in World War II.
“He spoke of how he had been rescued in late 1944 by a detachment of Mongol soldiers who were fighting under Soviet command,” says Lagrange. “I remember the excitement in his voice as he explained how he and other British and American prisoners in the camp had been rescued by these massive men from a foreign land. Since then Mongolia has always been on my mind. Those men saved my grandfather’s life—and ultimately mine as well.”
A Mongolian eagle-hunter. Image by Frédéric Lagrange
Lagrange first travelled to Mongolia in 2001 for a month shooting landscapes in the west of the country but that first trip sparked a desire to return. “I felt a strong urge to see more: the Gobi desert in the South, the eagle hunters in the West, the Tsaatan reindeer herders in the Northern Taiga, and so much more,” he says. “That epiphany inspired the idea for this book, which has been a long-term labour of love – 17 years in the making.”
A family is evacuated during a snowstorm, near Tsengel village, Bayan-Ulgii. Image by Frédéric Lagrange
From the nomadic herders who follow the fresh grass of the endless plains to the urban population who shop in malls in the capital Ulaanbaatar, Lagrange travelled to every corner of Mongolia to capture captured the vastly different lifestyles and landscapes of this rapidly-changing country but deeply traditional place. Over time, in a country renowned for its hospitality, strangers became friends and he was invited into their homes and into their minds.
Lagrange captured the nomadic and urban lifestyles of the rapidly-changing country. Image by Frédéric Lagrange
“I have learned to know the country and people quite well over the years, the psychology of the people, the way to approach them, their philosophy, their approach to life, what to do, not to do,” he says. “I have learned a lot from being around those nomadic people from Central Asia. I feel I have a very good grasp of the country and overall I feel extremely comfortable in it and among the local people.” Lagrange was even given a Mongol name, “Гурван Зуу” or Gurvan Zuu.
“People are incredibly hospitable and it is a very safe country to travel, especially for women who travel on their own,” says Lagrange. “One aspect I love about Mongolia is that there are no fences in the country: You can travel from one end of the country to the other, and you will never be stopped or encounter any kind of fence to delimit or confine a piece of land. It is the land of vastness and freedom.”
Lagrange’s journey unfolds across the four seasons in the pages of his book Mongolia, which was funded after just five days through a Kickstarter project (more than doubling its original goal).