Sacha is the second book by the young French photographer Alexis Pazoumian. In this firsthand account of the climate crisis, Alexis Pazoumian guides us on a photographic odyssey across the far reaches of the world’s coldest region, Yakutia. In a country that’s estimated to be warming up three times faster than the rest of the planet, it’s Russia’s icy heart.
These images, and the accompanying text, are the result of a project carried out between 2017 and 2018 in Eastern Siberia. The book recounts the author’s journey from Yakutsk, along the infamous Gulag Trail, to his ultimate encounter with Sacha, a reindeer herder who cherishes his freedom, living alone in the middle of the snow forest, known as the taiga.
If Russia has always appealed to me, it’s no doubt because of my family history. My grandfather, Richard Jeranian, was a painter, and he was one of the first artists of his generation to go to Moscow in 1957, before exhibiting his work in Novosibirsk, Siberia, in 1980. Tales of his travels through this country that’s as distant as it is strange filled my childhood, and stirred in me a desire to discover it for myself.
In the early 2000s, members of a distant branch of my family emigrated to Siberia to escape the misery that was affecting Armenia at the time. They settled in Yakutsk, like many other minorities, including the Kyrgyz and the Uzbek. Yakutia is a very rich region; the land is full of gold, oil and coal, and it’s also the world’s largest producer of diamonds.
The Yakut people say that “when God flew over Yakutia one winter’s day, his hands froze and he dropped all of his treasures.”
Learning that I had family there, I naturally decided to go toYakutsk. The climate there is hostile: it’s one of the coldest inhabited places on the planet, where winter temperatures reach minus 60°C. Observing the inhabitants in their daily life, I assessed their energy level, capturing it in images in order to better understand how life is organized in these extreme conditions. “Such a big city in such hostile lands, a few hundred kilometers south of the Arctic Circle, feels like an anomaly.” (Sylvain Tesson)
It was only later that I discovered the existence of the indigenous Evens people, a community of reindeer herders. I lived by their side for several months, cut off from everything, in the middle of nowhere, lost in these vast boreal forests known as the taiga.