Today, despite all the efforts of the right-wing politicians to divide us, we understand more and more that the young generation worldwide is profoundly connected. We are born into different climate zones, and sadly often with unequal positions in terms of travel and education. Yet, there are lots of things we share: not only DIY tattoos, chokers and Nirvana T-shirts, but also hopes, dreams and desire to be heard, regardless of where we come from. These ideas were key for photographer Hassan Kurbanbaev from Uzbekistan. His country, located in Central Asia, is terra incognita for most – and he decided to change that through his honest portrait of the country’s emerging generation.
“The idea of this project started from portraits of young people I took on the streets of my native Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. It was a few months before the country’s 25th anniversary of independence. I realised that over this period of our history, the whole new generation emerged. For them, Soviet Union is distant history, and many are already over 20, adults with their own fully formed view on the world. In that exact moment making this seemingly simple project was very important to me,” remembers Kurbanbaev.
Uzbekistan was a Soviet republic for most of 20th-century, and became independent in 1991. While doing research for his project, Kurbanbaev realised that the contemporary Tashkent is the city of youth in the country of youth. “With my friends, we looked through the statistics and demographic data and realised that over 60 percent of the city’s population is young people below 25, and 64 per cent of the whole population of Uzbekistan is young”, he says. The rich history of immigration also made Tashkent incredibly diverse, with a mixture of Koreans, Crimean Tatars, Greeks, Russians, Ukrainians and Armenians mingling with the native population for several generations. “It’s normal here, we don’t really divide people by different nations”, the photographer adds. “The multiculturalism of Tashkent is one of its main strengths.”
“We don’t really divide people by different nations. The multiculturalism of Tashkent is one of its main strengths” – Hassan Kurbanbaev
It seems that the portraits which make up Kurbanbaev’s project could have be taken anywhere: a bunch of youngsters shying away from the camera, or looking at the photographer directly, lost in their thoughts or very present in the moment. At the same time, in the golden light, outline of trees and concrete fences, we can see the love to the city photographer treasures. “I would describe Tashkent as the crossroads of cultures, the city of sun, tower blocks and the smell of freshly baked bread. Apart from the central streets of the city, the architecture here is still pretty Soviet, but with a bit of Eastern colour. In Tashkent, one could find both a typical Eastern bazaar in the old town, and a lot of Soviet brutalism which I personally prefer. The city is not perfect but it’s very calm, unhurried and friendly. And I think people, who are generally positive and find joy in small things, are the key to its nice atmosphere”, he says.
“I didn’t really choose people I photographed, it was more interesting to take photos of just random youngsters and connect with them, and a few I found through social networks”, he adds. “I just wanted to understand who lives here, what drives them, where and how they want to be, what are their plans, are they going to leave or stay and so on. This is the portrait of the new Tashkent the way I see it. Unfortunately, today in the world a lot of people have no idea where is Tashkent and what is Uzbekistan, and I wanted to show youth here in the global context”.
Kurbanbaev’s visual study is the perfect manifestation of the new wave of liberated global image-making. While cherishing authenticity and his unique background, he speaks the global artistic language which knows no borders. His work is there to softly infiltrate with the global hierarchy of fashion and art, and to give hope to the ones who want to tell their stories, just like him. “Today most of their lives we spend on Facebook and Instagram, so there is no isolation anymore. Information is accessible, there are no borders. Today you can communicate your idea from any point of the planet and be heard – isn’t this real power? I think it’s great that now it’s not so important where you are, what really matters is who you are, and your message. I hope it could be a push for creative people all over the world to tell their story”.
Follow Anastasiia Fedorova on Twitter here @anastasiia_f