©Claudine Doury, Le long de l’Issyk Koul, KG, 2004


1. What exactly led you to the project “Loulan Beauty”? What’s your connection to Kazakhstan and what kind of story did you choose to tell us about? Could you please introduce your project?

I used to work in former Soviet Union, especially in Siberia and Ukraine, the subjects of my first two books. More and more I got interested in a place called "Central Asia", its people, and the relation between theses new republics and Soviet Union.
A lot of changes were happening to those places around 2002 so I wanted to be there at that particular time of mutations, searching for tracks of a vanishing empire.
Soviet Union was a sort of an alphabet for me to understand those vast ancestral places.
Like in my Siberian project I wanted to know about the different people who lived there, where they came from and how they had been separated from each other, as the country was split into new regions and finally into states.
When I found the existence of the 4000 years old mummy named “Loulan Beauty” it was like I suddenly found the key for my research : with her long hair breaded like a lot of young girls around, she appeared to me as the mother of them all.


© Claudine Doury, Ma mère, Kiziljar, KZ, 2003 / Malika, Samarcande, UZ, 2004


2. Some of your frontal portraits in the series “Loulan beauty” are incredibly intense. I think in particular about “Malika, Samarcande, UZ, 2004”;“Ma mère, Kiziljar, KZ, 2003”; “Mokhinour, Ecole N°3, Boukhara, UZ, 2005”. They are different from the other portraits that you’ve chosen for the series. Frontal and in some way traditional portraits, they are iconic. The young girls’ clothes, their costumes, play an important role. They are telling us a story not only about the girls but also about their culture. Why did you choose to portray them in this way?

The portraits of the girls, taken from close, are a punctuation in this project : silent times and interrogations. From Loulan to us… Four thousand years in between, beyond all political changes.
I photographed Mokhinour with her school uniform. All girls in Uzbekistan wear uniforms at school, exactly like they used to do in all Soviet Union, and every city there still has its own colour.
The other two girls are portrayed in their own home made clothes, linking with oriental tradition.


© Claudine Doury, La route de Samarcande, UZ, 2004


3. Your work might be seen as documentary photography, but I guess there is something else, more personal, in your work. Could you tell us something about your approach with the subjects that you’ve photographed?

For me it is indeed documentary photography, but in a lyrical way, having something to do with my own poetry more than pure documentary.
I want to be involved with my subjects so a very important thing to me is to get in contact with the people on the way. Sometimes it is as if I recognized people, events, things I had already in my mind before I started.

© Claudine Doury, Famille de Silkhon, Kiziljar, KZ, 2003

4. The images “Sevara, Namangan, UZ, 2002”; “Famille de Silkhon, Kiziljar, KZ, 2003”; “Photos de famille, Shanshan, CN, 2003” are a sort of meta-photographs/meta-images. It somehow feels like if in your account we could experience further personal stories of your subjects’ families. The series collects all those signs and creates a web rich of possibilities. We can imagine their private stories, or we can try to recompose the puzzle of their lives. How intense has been your impact with their lives? How important is it to be close to them to make this series possible?

Working on mutations leads to work on memory. The fact of taking a picture engraves the moment into the flow of time, but this very moment can show signs of the past, a “mise en abîme”, mirrors reflecting mirrors. It tells stories into other stories precisely like matriochkas : Madina is showing a picture of her mother who is just in the other room, Silkhon the fisherman is drawing his boat from the vanishing Aral sea…Mixed up times…The past nested into the Present.

For this it is important to me to be close to people I photograph. My desire of developing a subject is mainly based on meeting people, so whenever it is possible I live with them for a some time, I share their lives, their activities, their emotions. That is also the only way for me to feel allowed to take their pictures.


© Claudine Doury, La leçon d’Anglais, Kiziljar, KZ, 2003


5. In the photographs you depict a numerous amount of girls. We get a glimpse of their lives, from their childhood to their adult age. We see them dancing, working, and getting married. Everything captures our attention. Was your choice of portraying many women voluntary or was it something that has been developed after starting to work in Kazakhstan? Did you specifically search for the girls or did you just happen to encounter them on your way?

Yes it is my choice to portray women. To me it is one of the means to understand the world. When I travel women are not only a photographic choice, they are also the key to enter some places, to be accepted and to be allowed to take photographs. From the place they give me I can look and discover their world with my eyes.


© Claudine Doury, Vassia, 1994


6. In the project “Artek” it seems that you are a sort of invisible viewer; the photographs seem to have an almost voyeuristic character. Young girls and boys are living their own lives experiencing special moments without caring about your camera. They seem to be comfortable with your presence as photographer. How is it possible to catch those private moments? Did you know them before the project has been started?

The Artek project began in 1994 with my desire to document the biggest pioneer summer camp in former Soviet Union. I had proposed the subject to Liberation Magazine which made it possible. I tried to depict the multiple specific activities of the camp. Some years later, other magazines from France and Germany sent me to that camp again in assignments.
Step by step I conceived a project to make a series more specifically on adolescence, not caring any more about the activities but on the contrary about the “slow times”, the “empty times” that are so specific to teenagers, and that they use to develop their dreams.
The final series and the book are the result of a mix of all these works.
Voyeurism would mean to be hidden and I never was. There is also in this word a notion of perversion that leaves me out of it.
In all my works I had the same approach that is to be close to people I photograph.


© Claudine Doury, Sasha #1, 2003


© Claudine Doury, Le camp Ritchnoï #1, 1994


7. It is becoming more and more difficult to be allowed to photograph young people, especially minors. Have you had any problems with your subjects? Unfortunately also professional photography could be viewed as dangerous or offensive for young people, in front of the problems with the media, Internet and outrageous usage of images of minors. But it is incredibly fascinating to understand young people’s feelings and emotions, and freeze their pure sensations in a photograph. How did you face this problem?

We all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and of course ugliness and evil also are.
15 years ago my pictures were published in magazines as a photo essay and later my book “Artek” was acclaimed.
I keep on going my way and I have just finished a new project on adolescence with my own daughter, that will probably be called “Sister Self”.
I surely will never be through with mutations.




Interview by Daniel Augschoell and Anya Jasbar