Myrto Papadopoulos

PHOTOGRAPHY: THE NEW PLASTIC ROAD

http://www.thenewplasticroadfilm.com/TheNewPlasticRoadFilm/The_New_Plastic_Road.html

These images reflect the daily life in a remote and isolated society on the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan; at a time and place that it is in evolution.

In August 2011 my partner and I went to Tajikistan for the purpose of making a documentary and to photograph a place that I only knew from our extensive research.

Tajikistan has been the poorest of the former Soviet States but it also has the poorest state of roads with limited external transportation links and with infrastructure weaknesses, which hinder development. It has been a country of conflict and instability. In the last decade a connection to China has been the hope and expectation for prosperous development for Tajikistan, notably for the people of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast. Unlike the rest of Tajikistan, Badakhshan remains in geographical isolation, almost throughout the year due to snowfalls, landslides and flooding and basic necessities such as food water, electricity are lacking in the area, especially in the town of Murghab, where nothing really grows and nearly all food is imported from the neighboring countries of Kyrgyzstan and China.

China opened her doors to Tajikistan in 2004 by reconstructing the road between Murghab and the Qulma pass on the borders, with the intention of expanding her relations but also to promote commerce between the two countries. However, this new road has brought about the evident physical and social transformation of the region. This sudden change can be seen as a great opportunity for bilateral relations to develop between the two countries, political and economical cooperation, allowing the Chinese economy to attract resources from Tajikistan and the much needed Chinese goods to flow into the Central Asian markets. But it can also be seen as a ‘door’ that has opened up to new social issues.

Consequently, my aim in this project is to explore how the people in this isolated region of Central Asia are affected by this new socioeconomic and political change and to investigate how they perceive their lives today and in the immediate future. At the beginning of my journey I was just a traveller on a very long and rough road but after many treacherous kilometers, I realized how this road is the only connection between these two distinctive cultures, how it has become the bloodline of these people and finally how this international crossroad has the power to affect the rest of the world. Already today, many countries have started to invest in the Pamir region due to this ‘new opening’ with the intention of expanding their developments aiming to enter the global market.

This story is about power, growth and change. Even if life is changing rapidly, a visual silence characterizes the place. That is what I strongly want to portray through my images.

On the way to Murghab, Tajikistan 2011.The M41, known informally and more commonly as the Pamir Highway is a road traversing the Pamir Mountains through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. It is the only continuous route through the difficult terrain of the mountains and serves as the main supply route to Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. The route has been in use for millennia, as there are a limited number of viable routes through the high Pamir Mountains. The road formed one link of the ancient Silk Road trade route.
  
Khorog, Tajikistan 2011-The city of Khorog, is the administrative center of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous oblast of the Republic of Tajikistan. It is located in the southwestern region of the oblast, some 2200m above sea level in the Pamir mountains. Here, two boys are swimming at a public swiming pool on the outskirts of the town.
  
Khorog, Tajikistan 2011-In the Central Park, the main stage has been placed for the presidents speech Emomali Rahmon.
     
  
Khorog; Tajikistan 2011-Presidents day. Children dressed in their traditional costumes to salute the arrival of the president Emomali Rahmon in Khorog.
  
Khorog, Tajikistan 2011-A view of a Pamir house.
  
Khorog, Tajikistan 2011-Family portraits are hanged on the wall at a house outside of Khorog.
     
  
Khorog, Tajikistan 2011-In a local mini market in Khorog. Unlike the rest of Tajikistan, Badakhshan remains in geographical isolation from the capital Dushanbe, almost throughout the year due to snowfalls, landslides and flooding. Therefore food supplies are not enough.
  
Khorog, Tajikistan 2011-A girl is dressed up and is holding roses in her hand to salute the president Emomali Rahmon.
  
On the Pamir mountains, Tajikistan 2011-A woman sleeps at the Sagirdasht Pass on an altitude of more than 3252m in the Pamir mountains. The Pamir mountains, or Pamirs, also known as the ‘Roof of the World,’ extend across Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. The heart of the Pamir range, the High Pamirs, is located in Tajikistan’s mountainous province of GBAO. The Sagirdasht pass is one of the few stopovers for the locals on the way to the capital Dushanbe. Tajikistan has been the poorest of the former Soviet States but it also has the poorest state of roads with limited external transportation links and with infrastructure weaknesses, which hinder development.
     
  
Khorog, Tajikistan 2011-Nightlife in a local bar in Khorog.
  
Khorog, Tajikistan 2011-In a local mini market in Khorog. Unlike the rest of Tajikistan, Badakhshan remains in geographical isolation from the capital Dushanbe, almost throughout the year due to snowfalls, landslides and flooding. Therefore food supplies are not enough.
  
Roshkala region, Tajikistan 2011-The living room of Davlat, a Tajik merchandiser.
     
  
Roshkala region, Tajikistan 2011-A rich feast.
  
Roshkala region, Tajikistan 2011-A woman putting to bed her young daughter. She is the wife of Davlat, a Tajik merchandiser who owns three shops and takes the Pamir highway every month to China to buy goods to sell them in the local market.
  
Roshkala region, Tajikistan 2011-A girl brushing her hair in the Tavdem subdistrict, close to Khorog.
     
  
Roshkala region, Tajikistan 2011A Tajik girl looking out a window in Roshkala region.
  
Khorog, Tajikistan 2011-In the Central Park of the town. Chairs have been placed in the park for the speach of the President Emomali Rahmon.
  
On the way to Murgab, Tajikistan 2011-Portrait of a woman washing inside a hamam.
     
  
On the way to Murgab, Tajikistan 2011-Liu a Chinese truck driver on a usuall stopover towards Murghab.
  
Murghab, Tajikistan 2011-Most of the houses in Murghab are made out of manure.
  
On the way to Murgab, Tajikistan 2011-A Chinese truck on a stopover towards Murghab. China’s new presence in Central Asia is in many ways more Silk Road revival than Great Game redux. Chinese analysts say one goal of Beijing is to economically integrate Central Asia with the restive western region of Xinjiang, breaking down trade barriers, even if the Central Asian governments are wary.
     
  
Murghab, Tajikistan 2011-Inside a local billiards place in Murghab.
  
Murghab, Tajikistan 2011-Badakhshan’s future development depends very much on a broader connection with Central Asia. In Murghab for example, district of Badakhshan, lying on an altitude of more than 3500 meters on the border between China and Tajikistan, this dependence is even stronger.
  
Khorog, Tajikistan 2011-Washing clothes. The city of Khorog, is experiencing an acute shortage of drinking water.
     
  
On the way to Murgab, Tajikistan 2011-A Chinese truck driver on a stopover towards Murgab, having his dinner.
  
Murghab, Tajikistan 2011-In the market in Murghab. A lot of products today in the local market are Chinese. Murgab is not suitable for agricultural development; nothing really grows there and life becomes very difficult for the locals. Furthermore the rationing of electricity in winter receives no more than four hours (or less) of electricity a day- and this has serious implications in the industry.