Profile: The Vanishing Cultures Project

Last spring I was lucky enough to meet two enterprising young journalists in a cafe in Ulaanbaatar. Nina Wegner and Taylor Weidman were new to Mongolia and were going to spend the next six months researching, interviewing and photographing for a book about how Mongolian herding lifestyle is changing. It was their second book for their non-profit journalism organization, the Vanishing Cultures Project.

Meeting Nina and Taylor was kismet. So much of what drove them to start the Vanishing Cultures Project (long-form journalism, desire to cover people that are often overlooked, passion for international coverage and travel) is what led me to Mongolia.

Nina and Taylor started VCP while working in Nepal. Originally there for on a Fulbright Fellowship, Taylor and Nina soon discovered a remote tribe in the Himalayas whose customs had seen little change for the past century or so. They were granted exceptional access to this community, and their work turned into a beautiful and informative coffee table book (with a forward from the Dalai Lama!). They decided to donate the proceeds from this book back to cultural initiatives to support the Mustang people.

With the success of their Nepal project, they decided to continue working with this model. They are now spending a significant amount of time in a location – up to six months – and documenting a culture undergoing rapid change through writing and photography.

The endeavor is a rare and worthwhile one, and something I wish I’d thought of myself. But I didn’t, so I decided to do the next best thing.

I befriended Nina and Taylor and enthusiastically accompanied them on a couple trips to the Mongolian countryside. We exchanged contacts, research, skills, and more importantly, words of encouragement as we all struggled to cover a country we were still trying to figure out.

Here is a short promotional video I produced for the Vanishing Cultures Project. If you like the organization please support them by buying one of their gorgeous books or fabulous prints or simply by donating.

Watch More Videos from my collaboration with the Vanishing Cultures Project:

Khovsgol Province: Herding Life

Khovsgol Province: Shamanism

Happy Naadam: Wrestling

Happy Naadam: Horse Racing

Happy Naadam: Archery & Shagai

Khovsgol Province: Shamanism

Shamanism is a an ancient spiritual tradition practiced throughout Mongolia. People who follow shamanism believe that nature and humans are connected in a deeply spiritual way. The shaman is the link between those worlds and acts as a conduit for people to reach beyond. According to the Lonely Planet, “two of a shaman’s main functions are to cure sickness caused by the soul straying, and to accompany souls of the dead to the other world.”

While witnessing a shaman ceremony is a special event, signs of the spiritual tradition are throughout Mongolia. Ovoos (sacred piles of stones) are scattered across the countryside as indicators of respect for nature. They are typically built at noteworthy locations as a sign of respect to the natural realm. When one passes an ovoo, he or she  must circle it three times and toss a stone onto the pile as an offering. Others might offer horse skulls, vodka bottles, or even tires.

Recently, Mongolia has seen a resurgence of Shamanism as many young people are becoming shamans. However, some believe a number of these new converts are “tourist shamans”, people who will perform the ceremony as a show for a fee.

Last August, I traveled to Khovsgol Province with the Vanishing Cultures Project to meet one of the country’s most well-respected shamans. She was kind enough to invite us to a ceremony, which she also allowed me to film.

This is the second in a series of three videos from Khovsgol Province. They were produced in partnership with the Vanishing Cultures Project.

Watch more videos from Khovsgol:

Khovsgol Province: Herding Life

Khovsgol Province: Herding Life

Last August, I spent a week with the Vanishing Cultures Project co-leaders Taylor Weidman and Nina Wegner in Mongolia’s northern province of Khovsgol. We were documenting the herding lifestyle for their upcoming book, “Mongolia’s Nomads: Life on the Steppe”. I had the privilege to tag along on their research journey as a filmmaker.

Over the course of the week, we stayed with two different herding families, visited with one of the country’s most powerful shamans, and I filmed a behind-the-scenes look at the work Taylor and Nina do with Vanishing Cultures Project. Two months later, I’ve finally been able to sit down and finish these short films!

Here’s the first of the three, a profile of two different herders living in Khovsgol Province:

 

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