After first visiting Kyrgyzstan in 2018, landscape photographer Albert Dros found himself enamored with the landlocked country in Central Asia. Its mountainous terrain provides unending dramatic landscapes and is filled with enough peaks and valleys to make any photographer’s heart melt. Now on his third visit to the country, Dros took the opportunity to explore a region he’d previously missed. During his explorations of southern Kyrgyzstan, Dros not only photographed the incredible landscapes but also the people he encountered along the way. As a result, his new work gives a vision of his growing love affair with the country. Largely untouched by tourism, Kyrgyzstan gives Dros a clean slate from which to work. By moving into this uncharted territory, he’s free to explore his artistry without fear of replicating what’s been done before.
Thankfully, Dros is generous in his desire to share the rich culture of Kyrgyzstan with the world. From the high reaches of Lenin Peak to the deep valleys filled with yurts, the country’s natural beauty is no longer a mystery to the world at large. By providing this roadmap, the Dutch photographer hopes to inspire others to venture out into new areas and explore that which has yet to be discovered.
We had the chance to speak with Dros about why Kyrgyzstan is so meaningful to him and what he observed during his latest trip. Read on for My Modern Met’s exclusive interview.
What is it about Kyrgyzstan that keeps drawing you back as a photographer?
I first visited Kyrgyzstan last year. My girlfriend is from Kyrgyzstan so this was the main reason for my visit. Last year I visited her family for the first time and since then I already visited the country two more times. But it’s obviously not only my girlfriend’s roots and her family that keeps me coming back. I love nature and I love mountains. And that’s exactly what Kyrgyzstan has to offer.
The landscapes are really untouched and tourism is really just upcoming right now, but still at a very early phase. There are so many beautiful landscapes there just waiting to be explored. And this is exactly why I keep coming back—explore new mountains, new valleys, new canyons, new everything basically.
Why did you decide to focus on the south of Kyrgyzstan this time around and how long were you there?
My last visit was my third visit in total. I had explored the east of the country mainly around Issyk Kul Lake and the Karakol area. But I didn’t visit the south yet. One of the high peaks named Lenin Peak, which measures over 7000 meters, can be found in the south. I really wanted to explore this area and this is what I wanted to explore this trip.
I decided to fly south to the second biggest city in the country (Osh) and from there traveled to Lenin Peak. The south is very scenic and different than the rest of the country with different kind of landscapes. That’s why I decided to drive back to Bishkek by car and visit some places while I was in the area anyway. My last visit to Kyrgyzstan was about 3 weeks but I also spent a lot of time with the family and friends of my girlfriend because her sister was getting married and I was attending a wedding. An amazing experience!
Did the area meet your expectations?
Most definitely. When I met my girlfriend, I had never even heard of the country Kyrgyzstan. I started to do research and found some photos, but not ‘real’ photos from professional photographers. But from the things I found—mainly on Instagram—I saw that this country had a lot of potential. My expectations were met and greatly exceeded. I keep coming back and I am already planning a new trip.
What was the favorite landscape you encountered?
Kyrgyzstan has a great variety of landscapes. You can find 7,000-meter peaks here, but also mountains that remind me of areas in Europe. I also found an area named Sary-Chelek which has a lot of greens and even hills like in Tuscany. Then there are lots of parts of the country that are really dry with canyons. I explored that area on my second visit to the country. CNN did some pieces and video about this trip; they were with me for a week with a video team.
On this visit, I explored some unexplored canyon areas and did mainly night photography and drone photography. This country combines many landscapes from all around the world in just a single country, which is really unique. I think my favorite areas so far are the areas around Karakol where you can find untouched valleys on the border close to China. These areas have a special atmosphere to them. I really can’t describe it. You have to see and feel it for yourself. It’s just emptiness, rivers, and huge mountains everywhere. You will also find many wild eagles here.
What was the most challenging part of capturing these landscapes?
The challenging part is definitely bringing the special atmosphere over to my images. It’s also not easy to photograph a country where almost no one goes. Normally you can already check some popular locations on social media and get a feel for the kind of images you will get. In Kyrgyzstan, this was not the case.
I actually feel that my current images set a benchmark for other people to visit. For them, it’s now easier as I already visited many locations and published the photos of them. But I had to explore everything myself and find the best places to photograph. Kyrgyzstan has a lot of beauty, but it’s definitely a challenge to capture it.
Can you share a bit about your interaction with the people you met along the way? How did they receive you?
Of course, for me, it’s easier to communicate with the locals as my girlfriend was with me sometimes and she speaks the language. People speak mainly Kyrgyz and Russian there. But most of the people I met were very hospitable. I often stayed in homesteads where you stay in a family’s house. They basically do everything for you to make you feel at home. Their cooking is always great too. I really love the Kyrgyz people. It’s funny that nowadays people are always asking “what are you doing here?” as they almost never see Western tourists like me in some parts of the country.
What equipment did you bring with you for the shoot?
My Sony A7RIII and most shots were done with the 12-24G Sony, the 100-400GM Sony, the 24mm GM Sony and the 15mm f/2 Laowa for night photography. And, of course, my drone for the aerials.
If someone was looking to visit Kyrgyzstan, what advice would you give them?
Just go! It’s safe and you don’t need a visa. Kyrgyzstan is amazing for photography, but also for normal tourism. It also has pistes for skiing in winter for example. Its a great destination for a holiday both in summer and winter.
Do you think you’ll return again?
Of course! Already planning to.
What part of the country would you explore next?
I want to explore the big border area with China more. It takes time to get to and I need a lot of time to explore that area more. It has the Inylchek Glacier which contains some insane mountains there. I’m planning to do a bunch of days by horse here with my friends of Visit Karakol, the local travel organization who I became friends with during my visits. They love exploring their own country as well and often ask me if I want to come with them.