It’s great when you stumble into some corner of the web and a window to a part of the world you know very little about is opened to you.  I was completely captivated by the image below, by Matthieu Paley, of a rider crossing the frozen surface of Lake Baikal, the ice cracked and fractured as it expands and contracts.

Horse and rider on the frozen surface of Lake Baikal © Matthieu Paley

So I followed the links and found Matthieu’s website and blog which are a treasure trove.  The image of Baikal is from ongoing work in Central Asia and Siberia.

The Kyrgyz of Afghanistan’s Pamir Mountains © Matthieu Paley

His recent work in the Pamir Mountains is beautifully observed, some stunning landscapes and very intimate portraits. In his own words:

Last January/February, I went back to the Afghanistan’s Pamir mountains to have my first “real” experience shooting film. It’s a long story that brought us there, but it was due to the motivation of Louis Meunier (Director of the project). Louis has a long experience in Afghanistan, and he was not the first director to approach me on doing a film on the Afghan Kyrgyz – but his experience, honesty and motivation made it happen. We shared our knowledge of the area and we eventually got last-minute funding from the Danish Embassy in Afghanistan to shoot this film. Thanks so much dear Danes! This last winter was the first session of a 2 (or 3) session-shooting in the Afghan Pamir. As far as filming, I was going to be paired up with another cameraman. I was fearing a show-off dude, but instead I was lucky enough to be teamed up with a kind, patient and extremely talented man: Laurent Fleutot (Director of Photography on “The Winged Migration” and “Oceans”, among others).
Of course, this expedition would not have been possible without the help of our Wakhis and Afghan friends who supported us all along – it was my second winter trip up there with now famous Malang Dario, our production assistant. He was the first afghan to climb Mt Noshaq in 2009, Afghanistan’s highest mountain. See Louis’s other project about this here: 24.000 feet above the War

We walked and walked and slept in dung smoked filled shepherd houses by -30C and this is what came out: Ladies and gentlemen (drum roll), I present to you “Prisoners of the Himalayas”:



There’s a lot more work on Matthieu’s website, but this particular collaborative film project looks like it could be a real gem. One to keep an eye out for………….

  • Ed

    Where, and how, did you stumble into his world? I am really intrigued by how one ends up at finding some thing that resonates on the internet, the breadcrumbs of followed links. I had seen the teaser trailer for the film previously but did not follow the rabbit hole to the rest of his work. That top image is wonderful, as are many on his website as you indicate. It’s fascinating to see documentary from that part of the world without the focus on war.

    • Hi Ed – saw the picture of Baikal and did some sleuthing and found the website and blog, and was blown away by the work. The ‘humanity’ in it is exemplary, the insight exceptional. Its rare to see such in-depth work, and particularly from such physically inhospitable locations, and you’re right that shifting the focus from the conflicts of that region to the more parochial, the struggle of indigenous peoples to simply survive in a changing world, is fascinating. Great to find stuff like this in amongst the dross.

  • Excellent work indeed John. On a slightly related topic, there’s a great article in October’s issue of Nat Geo entitled “Sky Caves of Nepal” – check it out if you get the chance.

    • Hello Tony – its great isn’t it! Thanks for the Nat Geo tip – I’ll look out for it.

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

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