In western Mongolia, photos reveal family life, striking landscapes

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Photographer John Feely has been spending time with the people of western Mongolia

He wanted a pure experience far from the city and without a translator

CNN  — 

When photographer John Feely booked his first flight to Mongolia, he picked the furthest airport from the capital, Ulaanbaatar. He went to remote western Mongolia, searching for a fresh experience in life.

Feely said he left Australia because he had, “reached an end point and wanted to go somewhere traditional and spacious, where I could have an uninsulated and uninsured experience.”

His time in Mongolia became the inspiration and basis for his ongoing project, “The Outsider.” During his first two trips to the country, Feely stayed in remote and traditional locations.

“I eventually found someone that could take me out to stay with a family 200 kilometers (124 miles) from town,” he said.

Photographer John Feely

During the summer, he stayed with families in gers – Mongolian tents that can be seen above in photo No. 13. In the winter, he would stay with them in a one-room brick home.

In his desire for authenticity and a pure experience, Feely didn’t hire a translator. He went into these communities with no common language.

“The process was meditative and silent,” he said. “Although the ways in which we communicated were not verbal, they were very profound. There was a lot of humor.”

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‘Intimate relationships with people’

This, he says, is the crux of the work.

“These photographs are simply an extension of relationships formed from this place,” he said. “I wanted to form meaningful and intimate relationships with people. (A translator) would act as a form of insulation or as a filter between myself and the experience, making everything less genuine for me. Anything like this seems to become a crutch and limit how open, raw and rich an experience with others can be.”

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    In the cool of the night and the rituals of daily life, Feely observed the harmony Mongols share with nature, saying in his artist’s statement that “they are a community of outsiders, both physically and in a globalized context. A culture not yet irrevocably changed by modernization.”

    This modern influence can often be seen in younger generations, he said. In the Mongol youth, there was an awareness of what other people in the world are doing and an underlying comparison to their lives. Feely is returning later this year to explore this theme more specifically and “how the information stream redefines people’s views of their own existence.”

    Through this whole experience, Feely has remained vulnerable and prepared to learn.

    “I left a space for the unimaginable to enter, and it did,” he said.

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    John Feely is a photographer who splits his time between Mongolia and Australia. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.