The Beauty of Almaty

As I already promised here,  I'm going to publish some of my most shiny images I took in Almaty yet. Some people argued, that I'd aim to draw a bad picture of Almaty in my photographs published here in this blog. Although, that has never been my attempt, this accusation summarizes the dominant state of mind here concerning the relevance of photography in general and documentary photography in particular.

"Have you been to the mountains yet? Just shoot some beautiful images there."

I´ve never been a landscape photographer, and to be honest: Nature simply bores me to death when it comes to take images there. Nature has never been my subject of interest and I doubt it ever will become one.

This attitude is apparently not the most comfortable one in a context where the beauty of nature is hyped as one of the most treasurable elements of national pride. The pedestrian zone is marked by kitschy paintings of landscapes, camels, horses and sunrises and most of city´s inhabitants try to escape Almaty for spending their leisure time in the mountains during weekends (...and even the busses heading to the mountains are more expensive on saturday and sunday).

Don´t get me wrong! The nature around Almaty is adorable: The endless steppe on the one side - majestic Tien Shan mountains on the other. It is impossible not to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the high mountains after stepping out of the bus after a short (!) 30 minutes-ride.

On the other hand, nearly everyone here seems to be devoted to the mission bringing this young country forward. Skyscrapers are built extensively, the new subway-system was established one year ago and fancy european-style coffee chains pop up all around the city. Capitalism takes place as usual and everyone wants to participate.


...while progress develops rapidly, people (at least in my neighbourhood) continue selling selfknit socks, continue selling homemade stewed fruit, continue spending the whole day freezing on the streets to offer whatever they brought to city-center from home. Frankly, I have not seen those people at Coffeedelia or at Marrone Rosso and I carefully doubt that they´ll make it to those places soon.

So, what about landscape/nature-photography?

The inimitability of the country´s nature, its landscape has its place in every societal historiography and here in Kazakhstan it is a dominant factor of integral self-description of a whole society and there is nothing wrong with it.

It is also (by no means!) a singular Kazakh thing. I photographed a series about my hometown in Germany some years ago to stress to the same point and people asked me the same questions, than people do here sometimes: "Why does our city look so horrible in your photographs? Better try something beautiful instead!"


I cannot find anything but disdain, if people are trapped in their socio-spatial context on a daily basis, irredeemably trying to find subterfuges for feeling miserable in a way or another. Plato´s cave is a f*** bad place if you sit inside and I don´t (never ever) want to be the sort of photographer supplying images for the daily cave´s flip-book.

Call it a visual layer of any given socio-spatial context or simply landscape or urbanscape. Those things affect people´s lives in the way which is usually refered to them. A landscape is not an irrevocable entity of beauty sui generis. It is a forteriori a symbol to qualify the ideal state of affairs and this symbol is always in danger of misue: As a bad excuse for not having to deal with everything that differs from the visually defined ideal state (yet) to come. A well taken landscape-photograph only serves one purpose: To depict an ideal status. It is the visual manifestation of uncritical continuance.

A landscape is a landscape is a landscape and nature looks like nature looks like nature looks like nature. Proof me wrong, if you ever found something worth to change while looking at photographically idealized images of nature, landscapes, your hometown, on and on.

To cut a long story short: I don´t care about nature-landscape-beauty-kitsch-whatever-photography as long as people know there´s still something else left and as long as people care. Otherwise all those beautiful nature photographs remain Janus-faced.

Nature´s beauty is inviolable, but when rapid societal progress takes place, nature is a bad advisor.


....  and to proof myself not being a killjoy I post some images of nature anyway...

Totally aware of the danger the pathos of this Post will increase dramatically, I hope my German Friends will get the point:

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