Arrivals and Departures with Jacob Aue Sobol: Episode 4 – The Mongolians

The Mongolians

I arrive in Ulaanbaatar after four days on the train. It’s a relief to get off and be amongst people again. The Mongolians. I feel it right away. These people are proud and strong, but they’re also caught in a strange connection between the present and the past.

During my six-day stay in Ulaanbaatar, I’m invited to go on a hunting trip in the surrounding mountains.

It reminds me of my life in Greenland. When I was 23-25 I lived in a small settlement on the East Coast of Greenland where I was trained as a hunter. The relationship you build with nature as a hunter has had a big influence on my life and work. Meeting the Mongolian hunter, I immediately felt like putting the camera on a shelf and picking up a rifle.

One of the hunters shoots a deer. He slaughters it, and we eat the warm raw liver and drink the fresh blood together. The same rituals. The same respect for nature as in Greenland.

My days in Ulaanbaatar are passing fast. I walk the streets, and when I get lonely, I ask if I can come inside people’s homes. I visit a family of eight living in a traditional Mongolian tent – the Ger. I photograph a young couple in love, an artist, a grandchild caressing her grandmother’s cheek.

The last day I’m at a meat market and the police stop me. They take my camera and tell me I will only get it back if I erase every single image on the SD-Card. It’s completely full – 432 images.

And so I watch them disappear one by one.

When I leave the market I feel awful. The sun’s setting and I lost every single image from my last day in Ulaanbaatar. I sit down on a bench and close my eyes as a group of boys pass me with a basketball. I decide to follow. They run through the narrow alleys and into an open space on top of a hill. This is the basketball court. I play with the boys. I take their portraits. Then I walk back to the hilltop and get a complete view, the boys, their homes and the mountains. Ulaanbaatar.

Tomorrow the train leaves for Beijing.

-Jacob Aue Sobol

To learn more about Jacob and view his work, visit his website at To follow the series, please visit “Arrivals and Departures”.





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  • Jacob, when the camera deletes images it does not actually erase the data — images can be recovered with software. Just save the card for later recovery and use another one to continue shooting.

  • Having done the Trans-siberian i can say that it is a mythical journey
    But you are more of a myth, a true myth and i am very happy that i had the opportunity to meet you!

  • I used a software called Data Rescue to recover accidentally deleted files. Works like a charm.

  • Hi,

    Great shots.
    Maybe a silly question, but since I am an amateur myself, I hope it can be excused; but how much/what post-processing has been done to the photos? Are they really this good straight out of the camera?

  • they took the card but not the camera and lense? i know it’s of no consolation…but what were they thinking?? if only they had known….but pictures are priceless!

  • The pictures are gripping. Stark. Too intimate.

    He sure gets them to undress quickly … Wherever he goes, they seem to undress for him. The next day he’s off to another place. How does he do that? Why does he make them do that?

  • as long you deleted the images, not formatted the card, you could recover the images.

  • Jeez, tone down the flash and post processing.
    That extreme contrast is burning my eyes.

  • I find this photographer’s lack of common sense and lack of technical knowledge troubling:

    1) Who in his right mind would shoot everything onto a single memory card when taking pictures on assignment for Leica in an exotic location such as Ulaanbaatar? It seems extremely negligent. Also isn’t it obvious that a meat market is an especially problematic location? The likely sell some endangered animals and are really afraid of foreigners going in and taking pictures…

    2) Who would shoot the very latest, best digital camera and know absolutely nothing about digital cameras? So when you click “delete” then magically all your files just disappear into nothingness? Isn’t it more than obvious that they are easily recoverable?

  • Excellent work. Miss those images they took, even without seeing them, due back up daily now.
    Take care, thanks for sharing

  • Re: Haufmann56’s idiotic statement

    Do you realize that Jacob Aue Sobol is a Magnum photograper? Do you even know what that means?
    “I find this photographer’s lack of common sense and lack of technical knowledge troubling” Lack of technical knowledge? Really? Did you even see the images? Unbelievable…

  • sorry but i feel unable to join in the enthusiasm for this reportage.
    of course ‘de gustibus non disputandum est’, and i am sure there are lots of people who appreciate this work, but i cannot feel any connection with it at all.
    the (i.m.o.) too harsh contrast chosen in the post processing seems to take away from the subject matter (black and white is not only blobs of black and blobs of white); i thought it was because i was looking at them on a computer screen, so i was happy to see there was a selection printed on the last issue of LFI … but they did not look any better (to me).
    I am hoping in the near future there will be more examples of images taken with the -intriguing- monochrom, to help appreciate its potential!

  • Dear Jacob,

    Many have said it and I will say the same thing in a different way.

    The possibility to recover all your images in the unfortunate event that you lose them forcibly or by mistake is one of the best reasons to shoot digital, given that this camera has equated to your old film camera in many other regards.

    It doesn’t matter if you format the card or delete the pictures one by one. It makes no difference (some have suggested the contrary). Good data recover software costs as little as $30. Of course, while taking comfort in this knowledge, let your face still show agony. We don’t want the cops to know our little secret!

    And Haufmann56, the joke is on your sir!

  • Im sorry but the pictures have too harsh contrast and vignetting on all of them. Also almost all pictures are taken with a flash?

    I live and from Mongolia. I use a Leica M8 and few Leica lenses myself. The police dont really care what you photograph specially in the meat market, its a free country not like North Korea when I went they had restrict rules on what you can photograph and what you cant…

  • Leica gave the photographer a M Monochrom to try it out. Apparently he has never used a digital camera before. (and still made it into Magnum. How about that!)

    The story doesn’t say but hopefully mr.Sobol learned about the recovery trick before it was too late.
    Also we need to consider that he might have ended up in a tricky situation if he published the deleted pictures and then wanted to return to mongolia for some reason. We cant automatically assume that police in foreign states act irrationally. They might have been in their right to order the deletion.

    Either way, these are amazing pictures. Yes, they are very “scandinavian” in the style, with ultra hard black and white contrast, harsh flash etc, but I think the somewhat brutal style complements the intimate content of the pictures very well.
    Sobol knows what he is doing, and does it well. I applaud leica for putting this tool in the hands of a real photojournalist. (Too bad most photojournalists cannot afford it!)

  • How is possible that Leica put on the hands of inexperienced photographer such machine?. How is possible that Mr. Jacob don’t know about how to recovery a SD card?. How is possible that Mr. Jacob didn’t bring more Sd cards?. Many questions here and not answers. Leica, bad very bad.

  • Your first image in this series is incredible. It reminds me of Pieter Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow.

  • Like L, I love nr1 best. It’s a lot like Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies to me. Contrary to some bores here I like the high contrast that you use. It defines your style and it’s dramatic like the subject matter of your work.

  • Great set of images from a great photographer . But the first thing that strikes you when you see them is not the image itself, its the post processing …and that should never be the case.

    In this case the PP is distracting not adding.

  • I’m in a minority here who doesn’t like the post-production. Since I’ve been there and done the basketball place myself I’m underwhelmed by both post-production and themes.

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