Capturing Characters and Tracing Traditions

Explorer and photographer John Alexander travels to the plains of the High Altai, Western Mongolia, and into the homes of herders and hunters in this stunning pictorial adventure.

Intrepid explorer John Alexander is the real deal. Having learnt to scuba dive by the age of 10, he was inspired by the adventures of Jacques Cousteau and studied the ocean at university, before entering the Royal Navy and embarking on a career at sea.

As a bomb disposal and diving officer, he underwent operational service on four warships and led boarding teams on counter-narcotic operations in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. Part of an elite cadre of men, John was trained to lead, manage, and undertake an array of bomb disposal and clandestine tasks ashore, afloat, and undersea — his team often the spear of combined operations. Undoubtedly, the stuff of boyhood dreams.

John Alexander
John Alexander //  📸 : Amanda Herbert

The sea and operational travel ignited a passion in John that saw him pick up a camera and traverse the globe, documenting the outer reaches of civilization. He captured not only the natural landscape wonders of our world, but also opened an intimate window into the indigenous people who survive in the most remote of areas. John’s photographs capture the essence of the grace and dignity of those people who remind us that there still remain places and communities who are not connected to our modern life. Instead, they live in a way that seems almost comforting, that touch something primal within us, no matter how harsh the conditions may seem to our contemporary minds.

John is an accredited member of the Association of Photographers and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. His work has been seen in some of the most prestigious magazines and newspapers all around the world and exhibited in a multitude of shows. We’re pleased to offer you a glimpse into his work with his cultural study Generations, which saw him travel to the High Altai of Western Mongolia capturing the characters and next generation of the Kazakh Eagle hunters and huntresses.

Photographs and Words
by John Alexander

Southern Siberia

The shadow of our plane dances over an ocean of tones and texture. Squinting at the sky and down on this deserted desert landscape it’s hard to believe that we punched through the smog of UB just moments ago. My eyes scan to the north, to the distant peaks of Siberia, to the south and the expanse of China, and again fall below, drawn to the ribbons of rivers and settlements that punctuate these earthy moonscapes.

Rattle and Hum

Closer to the ground the tune of tarmac soon fades, replaced with the off road rattle and roll rhythm through a region whose sense of scale is staggering.


As the last light of the day fades we arrive at the home of the revered Kazakh hunter and herder Bashakhan, his loving wife, and their growing family. While isolated in location, and humble in size, this home holds host to their son, his wife and three grandchildren. Three generations under one roof. And like the thread that runs through their fabric, craft and tradition weave their way through every aspect of life – and survival – in this pocket of the world.


It’s early afternoon. With the Siberian wind whistling at the door, and a wry smile in his eyes, Bashakhan invites me to join him and his son and head out on horseback to hunt. This is a first for me, and an hour later we scramble up the last few feet of the mountain, dismount, and turn to face the incredible view.

Silent Union

Braced against the dust laden desert wind he settles his golden eagle. Without command, this hunting partnership begin a dance and shift in silent union. As they mirror one another’s movements piercing eyes systematically scour the valley floor, penetrating the ground for the slightest tell and sign of prey.


It becomes evident that today isn’t going to be the day. The stiffening winds and bright afternoon light have forced potential prey back into hiding. Unperturbed, Bashakhan shifts his footing to settle, contemplate, and like his forefathers, cast a gaze of affection over an expanse that he calls home.


As the sun begin to set the ground beneath our tyres deepens as we slip into the compacted traces of track that guide us ever closer to the farmstead. Pulling up outside the pen we enter a scene of controlled chaos. Dusts flies and Goats run riot as Aibolat and his brother bring the animals in for the night. Helping where we can, we settle inside to traditional tea and introductions.


If Bashakhan’s house perpetuates tradition, then this permeates a sense of infectious energy as the brothers playfully recall tales of the adventures they have had as they harvest, herd and hunt.


The next morning starts early. It’s lambing season and the boys proudly show some of the new additions before they set the herd on their way for the day.


While our countries and cultures may differ, some similarities, such as sibling rivalry remain. With the day’s work done Aibolat takes to delivering a show of horsemanship and handling. And while a little more reserved, Kaibolat, is not to be outdone and stands proud with his falcon.

Last Light

With the show over we head inside and huddle around the fire to witness the last of the light adorn the distant mountains. Again a stay concludes. And despite a lambing led lack of sleep the family wave a fond farewell as we set sail to the annual eagle festival.

The Festival

A proud celebration of Kazakh culture, distinguished hunters assemble from far afield to fight to be crowned champion. Once an opportunity reserved exclusively for the male hunters, the doors have recently been opened to all. It’s here that we see communities come together, and while the atmosphere is friendly, burning pride sees young, old, male and female jockey on horseback and under foot to prove themselves.


While the traces of modern technology are beginning to emerge, it is clear that these families remains bonded by love, kinship and community, and whose path will be lit by the torch of tradition. A light that shines over this colourful confluence of culture and one that will be shouldered by the next generation.

To see more of John’s work, visit his site

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