In 2001 I was in Mongolia for a month shooting for myself and an assignment, and visiting a brave friend spending two years there. It was the summer months, the time of the annual Naddam festival, a national festival of “the three manly sports’- wrestling, horse riding and archery.
I’d been shooting out on the steppes, the horsemen competing in practice races and the wrestlers in their training camps. I went by taxi from the capital Ulan Baatar to a small village called Yarmag just outside the city. Here the horsemen would arrive from all over the country, coming in from the steppes with their steeds, to camp, socialise and take part in the big festival. The fields were full of ger tents, smells of bad food wafted around, and the dust rose from the continuous comings and goings of the people and their horses.
It’d been a good days shooting, getting burnt by the sun, in the dry air, covered in dust I’d shot about 10 rolls if not more of b/w and colour, all on the Leicas. It was nearing the end of the day, I’d had enough, needed to sit down, to eat and rest, when in the distance I saw something happening, lots of people moving around. I wandered over, and as I got closer I began to jog over a little. Soldiers everywhere…just when you think it’s all over for the day…
The following day were going to be the biggest horse races of the year and the soldiers in this photo had come to practice forming lines to hold back crowds of nomads. They were arranging themselves, and placing little stones at their feet where they would stand the following day, although how they would find these little stones again I had no idea.
I was only able to shoot for a few minutes, the soldiers smiling and a little surprised, when a jeep pulled up, and out came the boss and I was sent on my way.
This shot remains one of my favourites that I’ve taken, I feel there is nothing about it I would change if I were able to reshoot it. I like the way the soldiers begin to turn, the jacket flapping on the third soldier form the left, and the line of their heads merging with the line of the hills. Funnily, I don’t think it has ever been published.
Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert is based in Tokyo, Japan, where he works for a variety of European and American editorial clients. He got his first camera aged 9, and 22 years later he joined EPUK.
See more work by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert