Watch: Mongolian Nomads See Photos of Themselves for the First Time

  • Share
  • Read Later

As the Polaroid images sharpened, the children began to laugh.

This summer, teenage photographers Vanessa Hollander and Wilson Philippe spent 10 days cycling through the Mongolian steppe. Cameras in hand, they approached nomadic families and offered to take their photographs—a novel experience for those living in Mongolia’s sparsely populated plains.

(PHOTOS: Mongolia Marches Toward Modernity)

“People huddled around us just to have their photo taken and once they got one, they’d return to their yurt, but eventually returned with other friends or family members who also wanted a Polaroid,” the duo write on Vimeo. “They were all so shocked when they’d finally see a faded image of their face appear on the Polaroid, especially because we couldn’t really [explain the] concept of Polaroids since we speak no Mongolian and they speak no English.”

Shocked and intrigued, the children grabbed their pictures before they had fully developed, fearing that the photographers would keep them. For Vanessa and Wilson, memories of the exchanges will survive even if the photographs don’t. “It was a really great and humbling experience and showed us how much just one photograph can mean to people who have never had one of themselves.”

PHOTOS: A Photo Diary of Mongolia

William Lee Adams is a staff writer at the London bureau of TIME. Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

0 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest