Project name: Tsagaan Sar - Mongolian New Year
Status: Completed. Book available
Tsagaan Sar, White Month, is the Mongolian New Year. Usually celebrated in February (the exact date is dictated by the moon calendar of Mahayana Buddhism), it is one of the most important festive days in Mongolia. The three days of Tsagaan Sar are filled with visits to family and friends, eating, drinking and gift giving. These are very busy and long days indeed.Project progress
I finally had a chance to celebrate Tsagaan Sar in February 2005. I had celebrated (western) New Year in Mongolia in 2002, and I had even been to a Mongolian wedding or two before, but nothing had prepared me properly for what I experienced during Tsagaan Sar. This is one festival that éveryone celebrates.
Things usually start months in advance: people start saving money and order new deels (traditional Mongolian caftans). In the weeks before Tsagaan Sar, people start to make repairs to their houses and gers (traditional Mongolian nomad's dwelling) and stock up on vodka and airak (an alcoholic beverage made from fermented mare's milk). The day before Tsagaan Sar, people clean their houses or gers, prepare all the food, and get all the drinks and presents ready. Everything must be perfect.
Tsagaan Sar starts early in the morning when people perform their mör gargakh, which literally means "to start a journey". It is a special New Year horoscope that will show you the way for the coming year.
After performing this short, and very personal, ritual, the children go to visit their parents first. This even means that grown up people visit their parents; first the husband's parents, then the wife's parents. This visit can be a short one or a long one, depending on what is customary in one's family. Many people celebrate the first day of Tsagaan Sar at their parents' house or ger.
Over the next days, people visit their older siblings, in descending order, their friends and the people who are important in their lives. After three days everyone is tired of eating, drinking and the never-ending traveling to and fro' but satisfied they could pay their respects and wish everyone a good beginning of the new year.
This project had been in my mind from the moment I realised that celebrating Tsagaan Sar with my family-in-law would be a good opportunity to take photos of as many as possible of them. In the day running up to Tsagaan Sar, I was already taking photos of the preparations at my mother-in-law's house. It was then that I got the idea of extending my goals and shoot also as much as possible of the celebrations.
This turned out to be a bit of a challenge. Not only was my mother-in-law's house packed with people and were the dimensions rather cramped to walk around and shoot freely, but celebrating Tsagaan Sar often turns into a sitting and talking contest with eating and drinking in between: not much action going to shoot. This meant that I had to concentrate from the start on the details: the sheep's head on the table, the look in a father's eye, the sturring of the milk, etc. This focus on the details has turned the project into a personal and close-up account of the celebrations.
I shot most of the photos with a digital SLR, on which I had a wide angle zoom lens. Previous experience with shooting inside the Mongolian ger
had revealed the necessity of such a lens. A wide angle lens also means that the photographer has to come up close to the people, increasing the immediacy and intimacy of the photos.
After I returned home to Holland, I took a long time to chew on the photos, select the photos that would relate my experiences best, and those that were appropriate to publish. This process took nearly six months, with other activities interfering regularly, and with my starting over the whole process a few times as I was not satisfied that I had found the right photos.
Putting the photos together in book form also took some time, though this preocess speeded up considerably when I had decided on the book format I wanted to use, the lay-out I wanted and, most importantly, the arrangement of the photos. It was only natural to go for the traditional family hierarchy: parents, oldest son, younger sons, oldest daughter, younger daughters.
As soon as the book was finished, I decided on using Lulu.com to publish my book. Here is where I hit most trouble. It was my first experience with Lulu.com's processes and it took me quite some time to get it all working, also due to the lack of attention I could give to learning these processes. When I had finally mastered producing a proper pdf-file, the whole process of publishing went smoothly. I ordered one proof copy, after which I was satisfied enough to let the book be available for the world.
Main lesson from this project is that it saves time and effort to fully understand not just your equipment but also the publishing methods and processes.Tsagaan Sar - Mongolian New Year
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