"The more I spend time with my subjects, the softer and more intimate my photographs become," says the French photographer of his work
French documentary photographer Elliott Verdier’s A Shaded Path highlights the endless paradoxes of a region fossilised by its longstanding history of being forgotten. Kyrgyzstan is a peculiar place, completely landlocked by mountain ranges – a feature that has preserved its culture while simultaneously reinforcing its susceptibility to external domination. Since its official relinquishment from Soviet control in the early 1990s, the country has returned to its resting state of self-sufficient isolation.
From October 2016 to February 2017, Verdier photographed Kyrgyzstan’s industrial factories, embedded in sprawling landscapes that are populated by the touching subjects in his accompanying portraits. Shortly after settling into his daily routine, the photographer began to notice a marked difference between the collective nostalgia of the country’s older and younger generations. Where fond memories of the order that came with being part of the Soviet Union seemed to define his older companions, his younger friends had no connection to an era that ended before they were even born.
“When I travelled throughout the country, I began to realise a large part of the population was still clinging to this nostalgia for the USSR – which is very different from the new generation, who are dynamic and hungry for access to the rest of the world. So the idea for this series really started with these young people and how they said they wanted to be perceived.”
The tonality and colour schemes in Verdier’s portraits seamlessly ebb and flow with his images of industrial landscapes and natural terrain. In the town Mailuu-Suu, primarily known for its former mines, a local legend says the first Russian atomic bomb was made with uranium from the region. This and similar stories were shared with Verdier during the portrait-taking process, when the often-tedious set-up of his 4×5 camera created space for conversation. While Verdier is adamant that this interaction doesn’t affect the focal message of each image, he believes that what it contributed was crucial.
Incorporating intimacy is a guiding force in Verdier’s work, and he says he’ll continue to incorporate this sense 0f whispered understanding in his future projects. “I’ve always wanted to go to places that are not well known to people, and photograph subjects that are far from my own situation,” he says. “But my practice has evolved from my journalistic, younger self. The more I spend time with my subjects, the softer and more intimate my photographs become.”