CAE II Rephotography

ACMS SPEAKER SERIES

 

Rephotography of the Central Asian Expeditions, Mongolia – 1919 – 1925: Chasing Roy Chapman Andrews Across the Gobi and Imaging 100 Years of Change.

Where: American Corner, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

When: Thursday, August 9, 2018, 5:30-7:00 p.m.

Synopsis

     The concept of rephotographing the extensive collection generated by the early 20th century Central Asiatic Expedition (CAE) emerged over dinner at an Irish pub in Ulaanbaatar at some point during 2011-2012. Saandar, land surveyor and mapmaker, and J.K. Cluer, economic geologist, had been working together in Mongolia since 1997. Sharing a common love of history, exploration, photography, and Mongolia, they decided to launch this project, focusing especially on the landscapes of the Gobi and the cityscapes of Urga (Ulaanbaatar).

     They also reached out to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, sponsor of the original CAE and repository for documents and images related to CAE. Speaking with Michael Novacek and Mark Norell, they spent several days in the AMNH Research Library, assisted by library staff including Mai Reitmeyer who helped locate images and organize the scanning of them to high resolution.

     According to the research, major contributors to the CAE archive include:
1. James B. Shackelford, a Hollywood cinematographer and AMNH director who made some of the first motion pictures in and of Mongolia.

2. Walter Granger, lead paleontologist, who made scientific discoveries including the first dinosaur eggs (at the Flaming Cliffs) and was also a keen photographer.

3. Roy Chapman Andrews who while leading the expeditions found time to take photos at the Flaming Cliffs.

4. Yvette Borup Andrews, Andrews’s first wife who produced a collection of Ulaanbaatar scenes; without Yvette, there probably would have been almost no such photos at all.

     The first rephotography was launched at Gandan monastery in 2016. A preliminary expedition to the Flaming Cliffs was then organized in October 2017 involving several nights under cold and windy skies. UAV videography was used when air conditions allowed it, providing opportunities to quickly scan the cliff looking for landforms featured in the original CAE photographs.

     Preliminary results from the Gobi show dramatic landscape changes in the form of cliff retreat that apparently occurs at the rate of several (3-4) meters per century, or 3-4 cm per year. Further documentation and quantification of the rapid changes and their possible implications are planned. However, early indications are that intense wind, freeze/thaw action, and seismicity combine to undermine the cliffs and eventually topple. There is also a human element of erosion as the area is a popular tourist destination and virtually unregulated.

     Change in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar has of course been visually overwhelming in most areas, to the extent that even achieving the same view that Yvette Andrews captured is impossible — a gleaming glass tower is usually in the sight path. However, some of the scenes have been conceptually recreated and show those buildings that still do exist, albeit in a drastically altered cityscape. In fact, many of the buildings she photographs are still here, somehow saved from demolition, leading to inevitable speculation on why certain buildings survive massive urbanization and others don’t.

     This presentation will provide an opportunity to discuss the CAE photographers, experience their creative work and learn how Mongolia has changed in the last 100 years from a number of perspectives including landscape evolution, vegetation dynamics, and urbanization.

About M. Saandar: 

M. Saandar received his PhD degree in Satellite Mapping and Space Geodesy at Moscow Central Research Institute. He started his career in the 1970s as a senior engineer at the State Administration of Geodesy an Cartography for preparation of the Soviet-Mongolian joint space flight on the natural resource mapping system. In the mid-1980s he was Associate Professor at the Technical University of Mongolia, teaching photogrammetry, aerial photography and remote sensing. in post-Soviet times he founded MonMap Engineering Services Company and has been involved in many activities involving major Mongolian and international organizations and institutions ever since.

About J. K. Cluer: 

J.K. Cluer is a geologist with interest in a wide range of Earth sciences, having been involved in exploration with mining companies for 30 years. He holds an M.Sc. degree in Geosciences from the University of Arizona. From the late 1990s to mid-2000 he was Regional Exploration Manager for Centerra Gold and was awarded the Honored Geologist of Mongolia medal along with his Mongolian team members for putting the Boroo mine into commercial production. His exploration team is also credited with the nearby Gatsuurt hard rock gold deposit discovery. A previous speaker at ACMS, he follows Mongolia with interest and is a key benefactor to the Saandar Library Project — a leading English language technical collection in Ulaanbaatar.

About ACMS:

The American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting scholarship in Mongolian Studies. The ACMS Speaker Series are organized in partnership with the U.S. Embassy and the Natsagdorj Library and provides an important platform for researchers engaged in Mongolia to share their experiences and findings with the public. The event promotes information exchange on a variety of subjects related to Mongolia and is free and open to the public.

Thank you to the American Corner and the Natsagdorj Library for sponsoring this event!