john delaney – kazakh golden eagle nomads

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John Delaney

Kazakh Golden Eagle Nomads

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“Fine horses and fierce eagles are the wings of the Kazakhs.” – Ancient Kazakh Proverb

Nobody knows exactly when man tamed the golden eagle of Central Asia. Herodotus refers to nomadic hunters in 5th Century B.C. Genghis Khan is said to have had over 5,000 “eagle riders” in his personal guard. We do know that since the 15th Century, nomadic Kazakh tribes on horseback with Golden eagles have roamed freely across the borders of what is today Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Western Mongolia.

Every fall, soon after the first snowfall these majestic men will head up into the mountains in search of prey.  They will lose their eagles on any unsuspecting fox, rabbit, and even wolf.  At one time this hunt provided needed food and furs for harsh winters. Today it has become an honorable tradition and a right of passage for the Kazakh men.

But at the dawn of the 21st Century, the nomadic way of life is fragile and in danger of being eradicated.  History has long threatened these legendary horsemen: the Bolshevik Revolution, Stalin’s purges and China’s cultural revolution drove roaming Kazakhs to the mountains and valleys of Western Mongolia, where they found refuge and freedom to live as they have for centuries.

I have traveled twice to the far western edge of Mongolia to photograph the Kazakh nomads before these old traditions are lost forever. I shot this work with both large and medium format, and all with natural light. The project has been well received, winning a number of awards including the 2008 IPA/Lucie “Discovery of the Year”.



John Delaney (1963) is an American photographer based in NYC. When not shooting he operates a small traditional B&W printing lab. His client list includes Bruce Davidson, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Annie Liebovitz.


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John Delaney



Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

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