National Geographic : 2009 Sep
PHOTO JOURNAL | CAROLYN DRAKE • Inside Uzbekistan A country governed by fear is a challenge for a foreigner with cameras and questions. I'd heard stories about this former Soviet republic from ethnic Crimean Tatars who'd left, yet I had few expectations when I arrived. I certainly didn't think it would be so hard to connect with people. Uzbeks don't speak freely, especially to outsiders, and with good reason: The current regime has a record of intimidating and torturing those who have strayed beyond its control. The irony is that, with so few jobs, survival for many depends on deeply unofficial activities such as smuggling, doing business in black markets, and growing unapproved crops. The heart of Uzbekistan's sanctioned economy is cotton. People are forced to work their lands and sell their yield at low cost to the government, which exports it at great profit---an unfair system made possible by a network of poorly designed, environmentally dangerous canals that effectively carve the country into fiefs. Given this climate, it was natural that a photographer would make people nervous. Still, some Uzbeks were willing to share with me the rituals of their daily lives, and I tried to use those chances to make tangible images of abstractions like silence and suspicion. I think the picture of the café (above) comes closest to achieving this. It's an everyday scene, yet the reflected shadow above the man's head suggests surveillance, points to an identity hidden just beneath the surface. That was the Uzbekistan I experienced. More of photojournalist Carolyn Drake's work can be found at carolyndrake.com. The springtime Nowruz holiday is a busy time for families in Kokand, a thriving city in Uzbekistan's Fergana Valley.