In 2015, Italian photographer Michele Palazzi won a World Press Photo award for his series on daily life in Mongolia, specifically focusing on the contrast between traditional rural communities and the quickly globalising capital city. The work, pointing towards the complexity of a place where traditions and Western influences collide, has now – after years of testing out various formats – found its ultimate expression in this beautifully designed cahier.
Palazzi’s medium-format photographs are accentuated by the publication’s large format and use of different papers. They provide a unique and non-intrusive insight into the lives of Mongolians today: families living in the Gobi Desert who retain a nomadic way of life are juxtaposed with younger generations who have opted for a more urban and consumerist lifestyle in Ulaanbaatar.
“Mongolia has grown at an unprecedented rate, with GDP expanding by more than 10% per year. This mostly depends on the mining industry…”, Palazzi describes. This has caused the country to go through a transitory phase – a sort of trap between the past and future. The question now remains the present.
This diversity of living experience of the Mongolian people is greatly expressed through the publication. The large-format book is hidden in a red-threaded slipcase and when opened, it can surely cover most of your table. It is an incredibly layered book both in terms of content and print production. Most pages are printed on yellowish, organic paper which are then interlaced with vulnerable bright blue inserts. The presented photographs do not appear completely sharp but are rather grainy with warm dusty colours, as if the desert landscape left a trace on the negative.
Originally titled ‘Black Gold Hotel’, the project provides a glimpse of nostalgia for traditional ways of living while a cloud of modernisation looms in the background. Palazzi’s photographs portray this contrast by juxtaposing images of people immersed in the landscape – interacting with camels or horses, wearing traditional clothes and the only interior is that of the ger. On the other hand, the younger generation is shown in the urban environment of the capital enjoying night life. Despite their differences, all the people seem to be captured in a state of contemplation. They always tend to look off the frame which triggers this self-reflective effect on the viewer: What is happening to the society we currently live in, is it changing and what is our role in the process?
‘Mongolia Felix’ includes a text by Palazzi himself in addition to an essay by the author of ‘In Mongolia, in Reverse’ – Giovanni Lindo Ferretti who ruminates upon finding the archetypes from one’s childhood and family history in this distant country. Deeply immersed into the steppe landscape and sympathising with the people portrayed, one gets lost in time. By reading the texts and going back to the photographs, we start to question our own life paths and choices which perhaps resonate with those of the Mongolian people.
The tension between tradition and modernisation is a universal experience shared by many societies, yet in different scales and speeds. As the American writer ponders: “Small wonder our national spirit is husk empty. We have more information but less knowledge. More communication but less community. More goods but less goodwill. More of virtually everything save that which the human spirit requires. So distracted have we become sating this new need or that material appetite, we hardly noticed the departure of happiness.”
is a Rome-based documentary photographer who in 2015 won the 1st Prize of World Press Photo in the daily life category with Black Gold Hotel. Among others, he was additionally awarded the Enzo Baldoni prize in 2009 for his coverage of the earthquake in Abruzzo (3,32 AM) and he became the Environmental Photographer of the Year in 2013.
is a small-scale Italian publishing house founded by Matilde Vittoria Laricchia (editorial director) and Valentino Barachini (art director) that focuses on limited edition photobooks. Their first book was born in 2012 and since then, they publish numerous titles per year. The publisher’s specialty lies in combining photography with text to formulate a symbiosis of the two mediums. Origini Edizioni’s books are highlighted with a high level of tactility by often using waste materials and old paper, turning each book into a unique piece of art.
‘Mongolia Felix’ is available for purchase here.