The Second Annual World Nomad Games, held this year in Cholpon Ata, Kyrgyzstan from September 3rd-9th, were designed to celebrate the heritage of nomadic people around the world. Part sports gathering and part cultural festival, the event featured sportsmen from 62 countries across the world. The Games featured all the staple nomad sports: falcon-hunting, archery, mounted/stationary javelin, male and female wrestling (both costumed and stripped), and every imaginable variety of equestrian, including Kok Boru and Buzkashi, where mounted riders fight over a headless goat.
With his interest in and knowledge of Central Asian cultures, Hong Kong photographer Theodore Kaye was familiar with the World Nomad Games and knew he couldn’t miss out on the second annual event. He traveled to Kyrgyzstan to photograph the sportsmen and the games, at the same time, providing imagery for a live Instagram Takeover for The New Yorker. We asked him about his experience with the games and how it tied into an assignment for The New Yorker.
First off, can you tell me about the World Nomad Games and how you got involved with them?
Throughout university, I had been fascinated with Central Asia and was on track to get a Master’s in the region’s history. Post school I spent a few years studying and working in the Central Asian ‘stans, which is when I got into photography professionally. More recently, I shot an award-winning series on Buzkashi in Tajikistan and had a chance to see an international event including a USA team.
You shared these photos on The New Yorker’s Instragram. Can you tell me how you got involved with them for an IG Takeover?
I reached out to The New Yorker for the Instagram Takeover and they immediately loved the idea. It’s different from some of the content they have for such takeovers, however I think it was a colorful situation that portrayed aspects of Central Asia well, especially since most people have very little exposure to the region.
How does this project fit your photographic style?
I have a photojournalism background and like to shoot portrait and editorial styles. The Games were kind of a cross between a Burning Man and a Genghis Khan themed renaissance fair, so it was really a fascinating venue to be photographing at.
What was involved in your planning and preproduction?
Planning can be challenging during any large sporting event. A lot of things were happening at once. Since I speak a little Russian, Uzbek and Tajik, from my previous work and experience in the region, it was a little bit easier to get around and find certain sports or cultural events. Especially because some of the events were over an hour and a half drive apart from each other, making it impossible to see everything.
What did your days look like while shooting at the Games?
Shooting days were very long, sometimes 12 hour days, even before starting to ingest and back up photos. But it was a wonderful shooting experience given all the people I met and camaraderie amongst other photographers present.
What was your favorite part of this project?
I enjoyed seeing the passion that the participants put into their sport and love for their cultures. Before attending the games, I had never heard of sports like mas-wrestling (a seated two-person tug-of-war over a stick) or cirit (horse-back team based competitive javelin throwing from Turkey). It was about more than just winning games, but rather different Central Asian nationalities and regions displaying and sharing their cultures.
And finally, have you gotten any reaction to the images so far?
I have had a few U.S. and European editors make contact with me based on seeing some of the images on The New Yorker feed, which led to some great friendships with photographers who found them via social media. Additionally, the work has been a hit within the Chinese media.
To see more of Theodore’s photography, visit theodorekaye.com.