How has documentary photography changed?

Rentsendorj Bazarsukh
"Documentary photography is the eye of society"

Rentsendorj Bazarsukh has been working as a professional photographer for 18 years. In April 2018 he published a selection of his work under the title "Mongolia + -40 ° C". In the interview he talks about his photo book, the air pollution in Ulan Bator and the tasks of documentary photography.

Dear Mr. Rentsendorj, your photo book “Mongolia + - 40 ° C” has just been published. Why this title?

The title initially refers to the climatic conditions in Mongolia: in summer, temperatures rise to +40 degrees Celsius, while the thermometer falls to -40 degrees Celsius in winter. However, these extremes affect not only the climate in Mongolia, but also society as a whole. The past ten years have been characterized by unstable political and economic conditions. My photo book sheds light on what these extreme fluctuations mean for the life of the people in Mongolia.

What kind of picture do you draw of Mongolia with that?

When you think of Mongolia, you imagine blue skies and endless expanses - especially abroad. With my documentary photography, however, I would like to give insights into “real” life. In my photo book I also tell dark stories that show much more than just beautiful landscapes and nature.

Do you always know in advance how to approach a topic?

As a photographer, I always have an idea of ​​how I would like to photograph a certain subject - even before I start taking photos. But of course, reality often looks different. While I am taking pictures, I am constantly faced with new challenges that can completely change the picture.

One of your photo series documents the air pollution in Ulan Bator. How did that happen?

I think this is one of the biggest problems in Ulan Bator. Due to the air pollution, the children's hospitals were overcrowded and heavily polluted in the winter months. The parents therefore took to the streets and demonstrated. Despite the dangers, many people still do not wear respirators despite realizing how toxic the smog is. With my photos I want to make people aware of the dangers of smog.

What role does documentary photography play in society?

See once instead of hearing a thousand times, they say. Documentary photography is like an eye for society. It provides insights into social problems and brings information to the public. Documentary photography can contribute to debate and stimulate discussion.

What is it like to be a professional photographer in Mongolia?

The enormous changes in Mongolian society offer documentary photographers interesting opportunities. Unfortunately, the photography market is small. It is limited to newspapers and magazines, and photo series are expensive but generate little revenue. It is therefore difficult for documentary photography to develop its societal explosive power. My photo book should be a small contribution to strengthening documentary photography in Mongolia!

The questions were asked by Ben Rangnick and Michael Heinst.

To person

Rentsendorj Bazasurkh is one of the most successful photojournalists in Mongolia. He has been working as a professional photographer for 18 years, has been represented by the Mongolian agency Gamma since 2008 and works for the international press agency Thomson Reuters, among others. He began his training as a photographer in 2000 at the Rajiv Gandhi College of Production and Art. From 2002 to 2008 he worked as a photo journalist for the daily newspapers “Unen”, “Mongoliin Medee” and “Onoodriin Mongol”. In 2013/14 he was awarded for the Open Society Documentary Project. His latest publication "Mongolia + -40 ° C" was published in April 2018 and funded by the Goethe-Institut Mongolia.

Translation: Solongo Ganbold
Copyright: Goethe-Institut Mongolia

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