Mongolia.
Photographs and essay by Marco van Duyvendijk.
Artimo, Amsterdam, 2006. 96 pp., 72 color illustrations, 8¾x12".

A young girl sits on a bed, quietly reading a book. Her head is bent in concentration, elbows tucked in at the waist, hair pulled back into a ponytail, small feet planted sedately on the linoleum floor. Her slight form occupies just a fraction of the space of this photograph, which is otherwise filled with drying laundry, a red hanger, a soup canteen and the sort of sundry artifacts of everyday life that indicate she is not in Europe or America. This scene of quaint domesticity seems like a rather ordinary cover image for a book so grandly titled Mongolia. In fact, this unassuming image perfectly introduces Marco van Duyvendijk's approach of using the subtleties and details of everyday existence to create a portrait of the country's people.

The majority of the 72 color photographs in Mongolia are an amalgam of portraits set against a backdrop indicative of each subject's personal and public lives. Van Duyvendijk includes irreverent tattooed teenagers, monks in crimson and saffron, and even a young nomad cheerfully taking an axe to the intestines of a horse. Anchoring his subjects in time and place, van Duyvendijk also photographs factories, mines, abandoned Soviet military bases and a nomad's yurt in a city suburb.

Mongolia is not the stereotypical stuff of "documentary photography," which seems limited to black-and-white images of the desolate steppes of Mongolia, weatherworn faces of nomads and the bewildered stares of their young children. Van Duyvendijk refuses to depict Mongolia as a time capsule of untarnished traditions or a society hopelessly inculcated by Western culture. He shows us a country that is neither, photographing the strange aesthetic appeal of traditional fabrics juxtaposed with the garish colors of a pink checkered sheet imported from China or a young nomad in jeans and sneakers holding the reins of his pony. HANNAH NEWBURN
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