The Registan, Samarkand

In 1990, my wife and I visited Uzbekistan as part of our honeymoon in the Soviet Union. Yes, I know that the Soviet Union is not your usual honeymooners’ destination, but we were not your usual honeymooners.

We flew from Moscow to Samarkand, travelled from there to Bukhara by bus, then flew to Tashkent before moving on to Kirghizstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

I can say honestly and without exaggeration that the people we met in Uzbekistan, and indeed throughout Central Asia, were hospitable, friendly, helpful and eager to meet and talk to us. After all, in 1990, we were as exotic to them as they were to us.  My mind turns immediately to a lady we met on our first day in Samarkand.  We had taken the short walk from our hotel to the Gur Emir mausoleum. On our way back, we met a woman dressed in the very colourful style of the local women and she approached us, asking if we needed help (directions). She asked us where we were from and what life in Australia was like and the conversation flowed from there. Before we parted, I took a photograph of her, she gave me her address and I sent her a copy when we returned to Australia. I have not included the photograph in this collection in order to protect her identity; but I will always warmly remember her genuine friendliness and how it set the tone for our memorable stay in her region of the world.

I found Uzbekistan to be a magical place, rich in culture, tradition and history and I have no hesitation in recommending it as a destination for travellers who can appreciate those qualities. But I qualify this statement in two ways: first of all, my opinion is based on experiences formed 20 years ago and I am sure much would have changed since then; and secondly, I went to Uzbekistan as a tourist and I saw what tourists see. I didn’t visit factories or farms or schools or powerstations or research facilities. I saw a great deal of where Uzbekistan had come from; but not a great deal of where it was going.

Just yesterday, I learned of the plight of an Uzbek photographer called  Umida Akhmedova who is charged with “defamation, and insulting Uzbek traditions” in a 2007 work called Men and Women from Dawn to Dusk that contains approximately 100 of her photographs of life and customs in Uzbekistan. Apparently, prosecutors feel that her images of traditional Uzbek life portray the country as “backward”.

You can see a sample of her photographs here; and judge for yourselves.

Speaking from experience, tourists from the outside world travel to Uzbekistan specifically to see the wonderful Islamic architecture (which has been carefully restored since having been allowed to fall into decay during the Soviet period), to learn about the history, culture and traditions of the country (my lead photograph was taken during a Son et Lumiere performance, created specifically for tourists, at the Registan in Samarkand) and to taste the food. In short, to experience the colour and flavour of the country. And talking as one who has been there, Ms. Akhmedova’s photographs portray those aspects of the country with great skill, sensitivity and flair. Presumably, there are other Uzbek photographers whose work depicts the modernisation of Uzbekistan: the achievements in commerce, industry, education and technology. To isolate Ms. Akhmedova’s work and call it defamatory is to fail to understand that photographers tend to specialise in that which interests them; just as tourists do.

I am sure that the Uzbek authorities are very happy to exploit the rich vein of culture and tradition in Uzbekistan in order to attract tourists to the country; and as such, I am astonished that they do not enlist the help of Ms. Akhmedova in that endeavour because, in my opinion, her work would serve their purpose admirably. But I am appalled to hear that she is being accused of presenting a biased and derogatory image of her country. Consequently, I have put together this page on my website to show my solidarity with her.

I do not delude myself that the Uzbek authorities will pay any attention to my single voice; but with the support of photographers on Flickr and other photo-sharing websites, perhaps the tide of opinion against her incarceration will swell to a level that cannot be ignored. Therefore, I urge anyone who has been to Uzbekistan and who agrees that the government campaign against Ms. Akhmedova is unjust, to post their pictures of Uzbek life in a show of support for her; and anyone else lend their support to this persecuted colleague by signing this petition.

The following photographs were taken in 1990 on Kodachrome colour positive film and scanned into digital format several years ago. The quality is not great but that is not the point. I am free to post these photographs. Ms. Akhmedova’s images are far superior and she may be jailed or sentenced to forced labour for publishing them.

The Registan, Samarkand

The Registan, Samarkand (detail)

Entering the Registan, Samarkand

Gur Emir. Samarkand

Bibi Khanim, Samarkand

Spice Seller, Samarkand

Market scene, Samarkand

Market scene, Samarkand

Market scene, Samarkand

Char Minar, Bukhara

Teahouse, Bukhara

Market scene, Bukhara

Monument to those who perished in the 1966 earthquake, Tashkent

Happy Uzbek girls in traditional dress


9 thoughts on “Uzbekistan

  1. We must never forget that we are lucky to live in countries where the freedom of expression is a reality. And that journalists, photographers,people like us, die, go to prison everytime to bring us images, or words.

  2. Wow, her work is beautiful and poignant. She seems to treat her subject matter with a certain reverence that is not invisible by any means. To take such a candid point of view and to use it as a tool to instill fear and shame in so many people seems to be the real crime.
    I understand that there are more sides than one to all stories however I have to say these accusations seem excessively manipulative.

  3. this is just one of the forms of injustice, cruelty, or inhumane treatment being forced by one group on another currently, in this world, but this strikes us so deeply beause the behavior seems not only innocent and benign – but something that should be of value. photographers take great pride in their work and for many, it’s something you almost HAVE to do.

    Umida Akhmedova’s work is extraordinary and as you said Keith, she should be valued as contributing to the country’s cultural enrichment. that the authorities have charged her with using her ‘images [to] distort reality,’ is quite interesting.
    the real question is whose reality.
    bless you for helping to do something here.

  4. Pictures are light, so many authorities dont like light over the people of their countries , hope Umida can find justice and freedom for her work, and your single voice can be a powerfull voice.

  5. A sad situation where an artist is jailed for showing the truth.
    Like a person with low self esteem does not want their photo taken on the street , here is a government which has such low self esteem it will not look in the mirror.

  6. When I saw her work I saw beautiful slices of life in her country!! My support to her as a photographer and as a human being, and my respect to you for sharing this with us. I wish her all the best and hope this public petition can put things right..she deserves it!!

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