A photography workshop through wild Mongolia
The Giving Lens is headed to Mongolia! This destination was a huge hit in 2019 and makes for an epic travel photography workshop. Mongolia is a land of desert, mountains, steppes, huge blue skies, lakes, and sweeping countryside. It’s been isolated by land, by Soviets, and by history by since the fall of communism its doors are open and travellers are finding it is more than worth the trek.
We will arrive to Ulaanbaatar where we will explore the biggest city in Mongolia, and some areas around it. This is where we will partner with a local NGO protecting vulnerable children, Beautiful Hearts. We will document some of BH’s centers (while protecting the children’s identities) as well as teach photography to the staff and to the kids themselves for ongoing use (mostly as a creative outlet, expression, and photography as a therapy).
From Ulaanbaatar we will fly to western Mongolia. This is the region of the nomadic/rural Kazakh people, and also traditional Eagle hunters. In this region we will explore the place and its people. While in the region we will respectfully and responsibly visit some local families – including eagle hunters! – sleep in traditional gers (like a yurt), and take in the countryside (think: mountains, valleys, peaks, rivers, lakes, and more). We will respectfully learn about the culture and take in cultural events like music, throat singers, dancing, the eagle hunters, and various nomadic practices.
2019 was a smashing success. Sign up below if you want to be first to know for 2020!
Is this trip difficult?
This trip is physically of intermediate difficulty. There will be walking every day, climbing and hiking to viewpoints. Some will be by jeep, others on foot. Being of decent fitness will be important for this trip. You don’t need to be running marathons or climbing Everest but the idea of hiking shouldn’t worry you too much.
This trip will have medium to high emotional demands. You will get to know the children and get a glimpse into their lives, and that will push you emotionally to face the fact that much of the world lives on very little. Additionally, the NGO deals with children leaving difficult situations and some stories or concepts could be upsetting. This is an unfortunate reality for some children and thankfully companies like Beautiful Hearts exists to help them find a new way forward and support them while they do it.
Mongolia is HUGE. It is a massive country. We will fly to western Mongolia but from there will be some long driving days to get to vistas and viewpoints and remote areas. We will drive between spots in multiple jeep-style cars – roads will be bumpy but the landscapes will be beautiful.
In Ulaanbaatar we will eat at restaurants, but when in western Mongolia you can expect a lot of home-cooking. We will have a team chef travelling with us preparing regional and local dishes, which will be basic but delicious. Accommodation will be basic but clean and safe, twin beds in a variety of styles of accommodation from small hotels to gers to b+b style homestays.
All good on this front, aside from normal precautions around gear and being out after dark.
To some extent, this is a trick question. We are open to ALL skill levels, ALL cameras, and ALL photographic experience. The heart of our trips is giving back, exploring together, and fostering photographic growth (whatever that will look like for you). We’ve hosted novices enthusiasts with entry level gear, and professional documentary film-makers – on the same trip!
Specifically speaking of Mongolia, this trip is best suited to photographers keen to photograph landscapes and rural/countryside scenes, plus interest in photographing nomadic/ethnic people groups. We’ll also tackle sunrises and sets, night skies, and some street scenes around Ulaanbaatar!
A Breakdown of the Tour
Here’s the scope of our epic trip:
We will arrive in the largest city in Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar. We will be here several days exploring and working with our NGO partner, Beautiful Hearts. From there we will fly to Western Mongolia to do a rural tour of this remote part of the country. Eagle hunters, nomadic families, and incredible landscape await! Along the way we will visit some more remote sustainable projects and other excellent experiences.
You’ll want to arrive and depart from Ulaanbaatar. We will take care of everything from there.
Ulaanbaatar is a big city as far as Mongolia is concerned. It’s got temples, malls, monuments, traces of its soviet and communist past, and lies in fairly stark contrast to the rest of Mongolia which is mostly very rural and remote. If the rest of Mongolia holds its past, Ulaanbaatar is the face of its future: shiny, a little wild, and changing a bit more every day.
Our NGO partner is Beautiful Hearts, doing difficult but wonderful work protecting children and women from violence or harm, or offering rehabilitating support to those fleeing such situations. Their goal is a safe and harmonious society that is free of all forms of violence against children or women. They work to help children and women realize their full potential and their human rights, through education and outreach activities that include art, music, painting, dance, storytelling, and photography (which is where we come in!)
Please note due to the nature of this type of work, photographs of the children are not allowed for their safety and anonymity. We will be training the staff with some photography basics, and doing photo-therapy with the kids (fun workshops to just explore with a camera, with a slight bend towards telling your own story or stories around you).
Western Mongolia is the most remote part of Mongolia. We will be visiting Khovd, visiting Mt Tsambagarav (a holy mountain), and spend some time with the Oold Mongols, one of the four main tribes in the region, and do some trekking (moderate) in the highlands. From there we drive to Lake Tolbo, before reaching Ulgii. In this region we will spend time with local Kazakh families, eagle trainers, and accommodation will be gers (yurts) or tents. From Uglii we will visit a few other remote regions for dramatic landscapes before flying back to Ulaanbaatar!
Gobi Desert is an optional add on to the end of the trip. The Gobi desert is the other direction from western Mongolia and quite a long drive; for this reason we cannot include it in our itinerary. However, those who are keen can stay on and make the trek out to this magical place! Cost and details forthcoming.
What is Included?
All Ground Transportation
All Accommodation and *Most* Meals
All Entry Fees and Guides
All Photo Instruction
A Donation to the NGO
What is Not?
Passport and Visa
Alcohol and Souvenirs
The NGO: Beautiful Hearts
Beautiful Hearts is a member-based non-religious, non-government organisation based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Beautiful Hearts was established in 2012 and brought together individuals from diverse backgrounds, who all shared vision of eliminating all forms of violence against women and children in Mongolia, particularly child abuse. Beautiful Hearts works from a human rights-based approach and intersectionality as a tool to empower women, children and young people to understand and exercise their rights to realize their full potential. Our education and outreach activities use various forms of art, including music, dance, painting, drawing, story-telling and photography.
Some core components of Beautiful Hearts is: artivism (drawing attention to the issues by combining art and activism, such as post-card campaigns, public dancing, and photography); advocacy for changes in policies and public opinions on the topics of women and children’s rights; raising awareness within the public and giving talks and workshops at schools; providing ongoing support to those already affected by violence.
The focus of our time with BH will be to train the staff to take strong photos for their social media, flyers, and ongoing awareness raising, and to use photography as a tool for therapy, creative expression, and empowerment with the community. We will not be taking photos of the children we are working with, but assisting them to make their own photos and offer encouragement in doing so. Our hope is that Beautiful Hearts can use photography to continue raising awareness and bringing change in Mongolia.