Tag Archives: Crowdfunding

Faded Tulips: Kyrgyzstan’s Counterfeit Revolution

Among the ‘stans of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is something of an outlier. Remote and mountainous, the tiny republic is home to the region’s only parliamentary democracy and a vibrant civil society. Not once, but twice, its people have taken to the streets to force out their rulers—a considerable exception in a part of the world dominated by iron-fisted, post-Soviet apparatchiks.

Yet Kyrgyzstan is also a microcosm of Central Asia as a whole. A significant proportion of its impoverished population ekes out a living as migrant labor abroad. The rusted traces of a Soviet past line its cities and towns, while Moscow’s long history of gerrymandering borders and resettling whole communities gives it a complex, volatile ethnic make-up. Tensions between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south of the country flared in 2010 and riots led to as many as 2,000 deaths. Its legacy still smolders.

Over the span of some four years, French photographer William Daniels chronicled Kyrgyzstan’s tumultuous progress. His work, entitled Faded Tulips, documents the false dawn of democracy: in 2005, the country’s quasi-authoritarian regime was toppled in an uprising hailed the “Tulip revolution.” But the man drafted in to oversee democracy’s blooming across the Central Asian steppe—President Kurmanbek Bakiyev—proved to be cut from the same cloth as petty despots elsewhere in the region.

Allegations of corruption mounted as well as reports of voter fraud and intimidation of dissidents and the media. In 2007, Daniels arrived in a Kyrgyzstan where the illusion of democratic change was beginning to slip. He was on hand in 2010 when protests broke out against the Bakiyev regime, eventually forcing the putative strongman to flee into exile in Russia. Months later, as an interim government tried to right Kyrgyzstan’s listing ship, ethnic riots between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the country’s south led to hundreds of deaths and a geo-political crisis. Neighboring countries closed their borders, while up to 400,000 people—mostly Uzbeks—fled their homes. Daniels’ pictures of charred, gutted neighborhoods in the southern city of Osh—an ancient Silk Road town that’s long been a rich crossroads of peoples and faiths—bear stark testament to how lifelong neighbors can wake up one day as enemies. “I particularly tried to understand how this small country could descend so quickly into extreme violence,” Daniels says.

But while much has yet to be reconciled following that spasm of violence, there are real glimmers of hope in Kyrgyzstan. The country’s seemingly successful transition into a multi-party parliamentary system has weaned it off the grip of a domineering executive—the main impediment for real political change elsewhere in Central Asia. But the country’s economy is still in desperate shape, and new President Almazbek Atambayev, who has so far engendered cautious optimism among most analysts, has to steer Kyrgyzstan through a maze of competing American, Russian and Chinese interests. “We will see how and where Atambayev will lead the country,” says Daniels. His photos, though, show a Kyrgyzstan as haunted by the past as it is uncertain for its future.

William Daniels is a photographer based in Paris. See more of his work here. He is currently engaged in a crowdfunding effort to publish Faded Tulips as a book; the drive is still ongoing, but the funding goal was reached while Daniels was reporting for TIME in Syria. Read about his harrowing escape from that situation here on LightBox.

Faded Tulips: Kyrgyzstan’s Counterfeit Revolution

Among the ‘stans of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan is something of an outlier. Remote and mountainous, the tiny republic is home to the region’s only parliamentary democracy and a vibrant civil society. Not once, but twice, its people have taken to the streets to force out their rulers—a considerable exception in a part of the world dominated by iron-fisted, post-Soviet apparatchiks.

Yet Kyrgyzstan is also a microcosm of Central Asia as a whole. A significant proportion of its impoverished population ekes out a living as migrant labor abroad. The rusted traces of a Soviet past line its cities and towns, while Moscow’s long history of gerrymandering borders and resettling whole communities gives it a complex, volatile ethnic make-up. Tensions between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south of the country flared in 2010 and riots led to as many as 2,000 deaths. Its legacy still smolders.

Over the span of some four years, French photographer William Daniels chronicled Kyrgyzstan’s tumultuous progress. His work, entitled Faded Tulips, documents the false dawn of democracy: in 2005, the country’s quasi-authoritarian regime was toppled in an uprising hailed the “Tulip revolution.” But the man drafted in to oversee democracy’s blooming across the Central Asian steppe—President Kurmanbek Bakiyev—proved to be cut from the same cloth as petty despots elsewhere in the region.

Allegations of corruption mounted as well as reports of voter fraud and intimidation of dissidents and the media. In 2007, Daniels arrived in a Kyrgyzstan where the illusion of democratic change was beginning to slip. He was on hand in 2010 when protests broke out against the Bakiyev regime, eventually forcing the putative strongman to flee into exile in Russia. Months later, as an interim government tried to right Kyrgyzstan’s listing ship, ethnic riots between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the country’s south led to hundreds of deaths and a geo-political crisis. Neighboring countries closed their borders, while up to 400,000 people—mostly Uzbeks—fled their homes. Daniels’ pictures of charred, gutted neighborhoods in the southern city of Osh—an ancient Silk Road town that’s long been a rich crossroads of peoples and faiths—bear stark testament to how lifelong neighbors can wake up one day as enemies. “I particularly tried to understand how this small country could descend so quickly into extreme violence,” Daniels says.

But while much has yet to be reconciled following that spasm of violence, there are real glimmers of hope in Kyrgyzstan. The country’s seemingly successful transition into a multi-party parliamentary system has weaned it off the grip of a domineering executive—the main impediment for real political change elsewhere in Central Asia. But the country’s economy is still in desperate shape, and new President Almazbek Atambayev, who has so far engendered cautious optimism among most analysts, has to steer Kyrgyzstan through a maze of competing American, Russian and Chinese interests. “We will see how and where Atambayev will lead the country,” says Daniels. His photos, though, show a Kyrgyzstan as haunted by the past as it is uncertain for its future.

William Daniels is a photographer based in Paris. See more of his work here. He is currently engaged in a crowdfunding effort to publish Faded Tulips as a book; the drive is still ongoing, but the funding goal was reached while Daniels was reporting for TIME in Syria. Read about his harrowing escape from that situation here on LightBox.

Summer Songs of the Russian Riviera

In 2004, when photographer Rob Hornstra wanted to publish his first cohesive body of work in a book, he ran into a common problem—he couldn’t find a publisher who was willing to fund it. Hornstra’s solution was less than common: he decided to raise the initial funds himself by selling copies in advance via word of mouth and social networking. It took a month, but he succeeded. Hornstra decided to jump start the publication of his next two books the same way, with each volume of pre-orders selling out more quickly than the last. Hornstra is now on his sixth book (plus newspapers, postcards, prints and posters), and still relies primarily on his own crowdfunding efforts to fund them and their related projects. Crowdfunding and self-publishing are less rare these days, but that is thanks in part to pioneers like Hornstra whose distinctive eye and determination helped blaze the trail to get important work to receptive audiences without the backing of traditional journalistic and publishing outlets.

Hornstra’s latest book is on the restaurant singers of Russia’s favorite Black Sea resort town of Sochi. Any self-respecting restaurant on the coast has a live house singer to belt out sappy Russian chansons—take a vodka-soaked ballad and drop in a techno beat, all at full volume—from behind an electric keyboard or a laptop. Sochi is the center of the world, as far as this type of live entertainment is concerned, and Hornstra saw it as the perfect metaphor to depict the city and the region, traveling to more than 60 restaurants over 100 miles of coastline in 2011 to make the 37 photos for the book. The pictures mercifully strip away the noise of the music and cancel out the dark rooms and sharp flashing lights with Hornstra’s trademark, even lighting, allowing the viewer to patiently examine every telling detail of the interiors, including the faux Greek, French, Roman, Slavic and American décor.

Sochi Singers is in fact only the latest installment of The Sochi Project, Hornstra’s five-year commitment to exploring the region in the years leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics Games, which Sochi will host exactly two years from this month. Partnering with writer and filmmaker Arnold van Bruggen, who wrote the essay in Sochi Singers, his goal is to paint a more complete picture of the area than the public is likely to see during those few short weeks in 2014. They have already traveled to a Soviet-era sanatorium outside of Sochi and the troubled region of Abkhazia and the Republic of Georgia, located only 13 miles along the coast to the southeast. Next month they plan to travel to the Caucasus mountains to the east, and the infamous breakaway republics of Dagestan, North Ossetia and Chechnya.

As Russia cycles into the news again next month when former president Vladimir Putin will likely be voted back into office, it is Hornstra’s commitment to “slow journalism” that allows audiences to put the headlines in context, as well as to see past the propaganda and pomp and circumstance that will inevitably surround the Winter Games. By examining the stark contrasts contained within the small region of the world, and recording both what changes—and what remains the same—Hornstra’s work reflects something deeper and more historic: Russia’s continuing search for a post-Soviet identity.

Rob Hornstra is a Dutch photographer. Learn more about the Sochi project hereThe Sochi Singers series recently won first place for the Arts and Entertainment—Stories category at the World Press Photo awards.