Crumbled Empire

Andrew Rowat


In 2007, Andrew Rowat travelled overland from China to the former Soviet Republics: from Kyrgyzstan into Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. His approach to documenting the so-called “Stans” looks at how people in the region live today, amongst the remnants of a faded empire. Rowat’s photos never show us the inhabitants of this world. Instead, using a large format film camera, he looks for details that help tell a story about life in contemporary Central Asia. Infused with the light of the Eurasian steppe’s big sky, these photographs chronicle styles of adornment and decor within mostly makeshift living circumstances. Printed large, the images invite close inspection. Certain narratives emerge: An oven in Kazakhstan is now being used as a cupboard; an embroidered carpet hanging on a wall is a portrait of a drug baron; a sign on the margins of an almost dried up Aral Sea (destroyed by Soviet irrigation projects) has the graffiti “You Mother Fukce PIMP”; a bust of the former president of Turkmenistan sits forlornly in a roadside restaurant in the middle of the desert. By contrast, Uzbekistan’s stately Registan, a holy temple that was built in the ancient city of Samarkand, stands perfectly preserved.