at the crossroads - a photographic journey through central Asia
April 11, 2007 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Canadian photographer Christopher Herwig provides a fascinating glimpse of the people and places of 5 of the "-stan" countries of Central Asia. You can see more work and current projects on his flickr page. Noteworthy photo essays: Arsan Baths in Almatry, Soviet Roadside Bus Stops (seen here before), and his recent The Wheelbarrow Operators of Monrovia.
posted by madamjujujive (14 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I really like the bath photos, and the wheelbarrow ones are great, too. I especially liked the picture of the giant snails in the wheelbarrow.
posted by OmieWise at 9:00 AM on April 11, 2007

I forgot to include a "via" so wanted to double back before the via police get me: found at the ever-interesting ben hayattayken.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:08 AM on April 11, 2007

omg, mjjj, This is so excellent! Thanks! Breathtaking images. Christopher Herwig does brilliant work. What a superb feast of photographs! Handsome man.

As a NYC street vendor I relate to outdoor vending the wheelbarrow boys in Monrovia. It's always hard to find a decent transportable stand. Love the wheelbarrow operator license. Amazing. Some of those photographs make me cry they're so warmly likeable.

Telling the truth in Monrovia. Hard life.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekhistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan: those -stan countries were "formed out of the ashes of the former USSR." Fantasy version of Kazakhstan and the sad reality. Major ouch.

There is another major -stan country in Central Asia, just not formerly Soviet, but almost, Afghanistan.
posted by nickyskye at 9:27 AM on April 11, 2007

"You don't want to fuck with NAWOUL, man" I told the Agent.

"Bah - I'm the local representative of the world's only superpower. Don't call me 'man', and don't tell me who not to fuck with."

I could tell he wasn't going to take a union of wheelbarrow operators too seriously in his quest to Make Liberia Safe for Democracy - and aligned with his administration's foreign policy. I could certainly understand it, and hadn't felt too differently when I'd arrived decades ago. I knew better now, of course, and simply shrugged my shoulders; finished our business; and went on my way.

Over the next few months I watched as he organized the construction of the new Homeland Defense Outpost, met with local secular leaders, and siphoned foreign aid money to contractors and groups he felt were On The Team. Needless to say, this didn't include the Wheelbarrow Union.

A familiar pattern began to re-emerge. Concrete supplies a little late; workmen's lunches soggy and stale on arrival; subcontractors other projects hitting snags and causing delays on his. The good local workers started to drift away to projects without the logistical problems; the bad accumulated, seemingly delivered by the wheelbarrowful. After a while he began to realize his error, and compounded it by aggravating the wheelbarrowmen. He'd harangue them in the street about the evils of organized labor and what Unions had become in the very different world of the States. He'd barge into the ramshackle offices of NAWOUL and pillory shocked organizers - haul them up before reluctant local magistrates who could take no action with his shaky evidence of "wrongdoing" - nor wanted to.

I wish I could say he never understood why he wasn't able to bring the country in line with his goals - he did, and far worse, refused to acknowledge it. He couldn't accept that the Shock and Awe of the economic and political power he had at his disposal could spend itself so uselessly against the antagonism of a bunch of guys pushing crap around the muddy streets in wheelbarrows.

I saw him at the airport today, walking up to his plane home with head bowed and frowning, radiating the puzzled frustration that had settled into his features over the past year here. I hope the next guy they send does better.
posted by freebird at 9:28 AM on April 11, 2007

aww. ahh.

freebird, where is what you just wrote taken from?
posted by nickyskye at 9:42 AM on April 11, 2007

Very nice photos. I wish the ones on the main site had a bit of explanation though - like (I presume) "rusting ships in the Aral Sea bed". Or am I missing the point?
posted by rhymer at 10:15 AM on April 11, 2007

Witness, respect. Allahu akbar.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:44 AM on April 11, 2007

Nickyskye - it's the random output from spam generation software. I throw in MJJ's excellent post, some news RSS, and a few chunks of old Jon Katz essays. This stuff slips through bayesian inbox defenses like a greased eel in a bowl of cold spaghetti.
posted by freebird at 10:49 AM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by CitrusFreak12 at 10:55 AM on April 11, 2007

I agree, rhymer - that was one complaint I had, too. There appears to be a description in the alt text of some photos ... this should be on the page itself. I was glad to find the flickr page since photos there have more descriptive text.

In Googling to find more about the wheelbarrow operators, I found this 2005 NYT article . Also chanced on this interesting blog, Liberia Legend, which notes that "Wheelbarrows are a really big deal in Liberia, to the extent that the country has at least three national wheelbarrow operators' unions. There's even a wheelbarrow on the country's flag. (Correction: it's on the national seal.)"

nickyskye, your participation in a thread always adds so much, thanks for pointing out some of your highlights, you always have a fresh perspective and contagious enthusiasm.

I particularly like the Tajikistan photos and some of the portrait galleries - what fabulous faces: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan

Oh, and it was indeed a grave injustice to omit the singular nation of Burhanistan.

On preview - freebird, that's fascinating and pernicious - I was wondering about this form of newfangled spam - it's very evil.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:56 AM on April 11, 2007

this is good.
posted by chunking express at 11:37 AM on April 11, 2007

I'm just impressed that Afghanistan wasn't included in the list of Central Asian nations... The man knows his geography!
posted by Dr.James.Orin.Incandenza at 3:58 PM on April 11, 2007

That wheelbarrow series, very interesting. Thanks for the post.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:34 PM on April 11, 2007

Thank you. The wheelbarrow essay was my favorite.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:14 PM on April 11, 2007

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