Photographer Treks Over 40,000 Miles Across Siberia Capturing Faces of Vanishing Ancient Cultures

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By Jenni Julander

Russian photographer Alexander Khimushin has garnered global attention for his inspired photography while documenting peoples of different cultures around the world.

His interest in the indigenous peoples of Siberia, in particular, has for years kept him exploring that extreme, unforgiving region. His stated mission has been to capture the faces of those last vestiges of ancient culture.

Traveling the world for the past nine years, Khimushin has photographed disappearing cultures in 86 different countries. His most recent sojourn in 2020 took him some 30,000 miles alone across the Siberian landscape, tracking down and documenting its indigenous peoples.

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Portrait of an E’ven indigenous girl from Sakha (Yakutia) Republic (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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A portrait of Dukha Elder Ulzii Sandag from Darkhad Valley, Northern Mongolia (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

“My life is my travels, or better, wanderings, since I spend most of the time on the road,” Khimushin told SBS Russian. “It took years of travel to realize that not the new places but the people left the biggest impressions and shaped me as a person.”

Over 40 indigenous groups exist between eastern Siberia and eastern Russia. The roaming photographer has had close encounters with many different native cultures, including the Dolgans and Nganasans of the Arctic, and eight different groups of Tungus-Manchu people.

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A Uilta indigenous girl from Sakhalin Island of Siberia in traditional clothing (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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Violetta Chunanchar, one of the remaining 862 Nganasan indigenous people of the Arctic part of Northern Siberia (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

“I was amazed to learn how many different cultural groups live in Russia,” Khimushin said. “For example, the eight groups of Tungus-Manchu people live along the Amur River.” And yet many, if not most, other nationalities of Russia from other regions “don’t know, or sometimes have never even heard of, them.”

Now, having visited tribes ranging from the Sea of Japan coast to Lake Baikal, Khimushin has shared some of his rare photographs from one of the most obscure parts of the world. The first photographs of his project titled The World in Faces were released in 2014, and were featured in a large-scale photography exhibition at the United Nations in 2019 in New York.

Currently, Khimushin is preparing for an even larger exhibition of his project at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, scheduled for July–August 2021.

Ultimately, he aims to expand his photography project even further.

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Khimushin’s works displayed outside the United Nations Headquarters in New York (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

“My global goal is to capture every culture,” he shared. “Of course, this is impossible, as there are up to 10,000 different ethnicities on the planet, and it takes a lot of time to get to the most remote corners where authenticity, culture and traditional lifestyle are still alive.”

Khimushin explained that throughout the past 70 years or so, the world has made a shift toward globalization, a shift that has resulted in the world becoming less diverse.

“As a result, many ethnic minority groups are going towards total extinction,” he said. “I think it is very important not to let them disappear without a trace.”

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A Chuvash indigenous girl in traditional clothing with an unmarried-woman hat (tukhya) (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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A Uriankhai man from as remote a location as one can imagine: somewhere in Khovd Aimag of Western Mongolia (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

As someone who was born and raised in Yakutia, one of the most isolated regions of Siberia, Khimushin said he regrets that he grew up not knowing his own country or the indigenous peoples who lived there.

But after he moved to the tropical jungles of north Queensland, Australia, 20 years ago, he said the trip opened his eyes and set him down a path he never could’ve predicted.

“I had to move to another part of the world and visit many countries just to realize how interesting my own region and its people are,” he said.

According to My Modern Met, some indigenous populations number less than 50,000, while others have only a few dozen remaining and are on the verge of extinction.

Khimushin says there are ways to combat this cultural decline, but it’s not easy to achieve.

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A young Sakha woman in traditional jewelry and clothing in the coldest region of the world: Sakha (Yakutia), where the photographer grew up (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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A portrait of a beautiful little Zakhchin girl “literally in the middle of nowhere in western Mongolia” (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

For now, Khimushin’s photographs serve as valuable reminders of these vanishing cultures.

“At least, we can save the memory of these cultures,” he said. “I have pictures of the elders who since then have passed away; however, they will forever remain in my photographs, reminding the world of their remarkable cultures.”

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A Kola Peninsula Saami indigenous man in traditional clothing (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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A Ladakhi woman from remote Nubra Valley of Ladakh Kingdom (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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Portrait of one of the last several Orochi People living on the planet (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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An Oroqen girl from a remote part of Inner Mongolia, related to Evenki people of Russia (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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A young Nanai indigenous woman from far eastern Siberia in a traditional wedding outfit (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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A Nenets indigenous boy at one of the most remote settlements of Taymyr Peninsula (Arctic part of Siberia) (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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A portrait of a young indigenous Khakas woman from the Republic of Khakassia in Southern Siberia (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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A portrait of Evenki indigenous people, a father and a son from the photographer’s homeland of Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, the coldest inhabited area of the world (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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Khakas indigenous people from the Khakassia Republic in Southeastern Siberia (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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A portrait of Dorji Doctor in the small village of Uluus Khara Shibir’ in Zaigraevsky Aimag, Buryatia Republic (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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Chuvashi indigenous women from Urabagasy Village, Eterne, the Chuvash Republic (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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Alexander Khimushin in traditional Chukchi reindeer herders clothing (© Alexander Khimushin / The World In Faces)

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