William Daniels

Faded Tulips


I remember seeing images of Kyrgyzstan for the first time on television, in March 2005. There were scenes of excited Asian-looking men rushing toward an imposing Soviet style administration building. They entered the building, vandalizing, even pillaging, all they found. Then, on the roof, a scene of men proudly brandishing a flag. This event was called the “Tulip Revolution”. One could read in the press that the Kyrgyz people, motivated by social injustice, had just overthrown the authoritarian and corrupt regime of President Askar Akayev and had replaced him with Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

It was a few years later, when the little country, no longer in the limelight, had been completely forgotten, that I visited Kyrgyzstan for the first time. Aided by a grant, I set out to discover what the Tulip “Revolution”, which was supposed to lead to a democratic transition in the country, had really accomplished. This so-called revolution seemed to have been no more than a power grab. The elections were rigged; the media censured, perhaps even more than previously; political opponents were arrested. Kyrgyzstan was considered one of the 15 most corrupt countries in the world. Even today 40% of the population live below the poverty line, and at least as many look back with nostalgia to the Soviet era. Today one speaks of the Tulip Revolution as a coup d’état disguised as a popular revolution.

I continued to visit the country in the course of several trips. I was confronted by the growing instability which would lead, eventually, to the bloody riots of April 2010. It was a new revolution, perhaps a bit more authentic this time. The nepotistic Bakyiev was overthrown in his turn and found asylum in Belorussia, as had Akayev five years earlier. There followed a period of great unrest during which Osh, the major city in South, was the scene of anti-Uzbek pogroms.

Some say that the young country has never really recovered from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and that what it is going through today is still the painful apprenticeship of independence.

Faded Tulips is a trip through a young country at the crossroads of different worlds, born out of the break-up of the Soviet Union 20 years ago.
It is an immersion in the daily life of a disenchanted people living amidst the ruins of their past and whose present is undermined by poverty, clannishness, and chronic instability, a explosive mixture.




William’s work revolves around social issues and humanitarian concerns mostly focusing on isolated or weakened communities. He has worked on many global issues such as the 3 main pandemics -Malaria, Aids and Tuberculosis- the Tsunami aftermaths in Asia, Haiti earthquake aftermaths, and he has been working on Kyrgyzstan since late 2007, among others issues. Recently he covered the Libyan conflict on assignment for Polka magazine.

His long-term work on malaria was exhibited in partnership with the Global Fund on the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris, in London, at the European parliament in Brussels, and he published it in the book Mauvais Air. His images appear regularly in French and international press: Time, Newsweek, Le Monde, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Polka and he was Awarded once at world press photo, 3 times at Picture of the year and shortlisted in many international awards such as Anthropographia and Sony Awards.

He is represented by Panos Pictures.


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William Daniels


33 thoughts on “William Daniels – Faded Tulips”

  1. Man, I love that photography. Could be edited a little tighter, and the captions are like moustaches crudely painted on Mona Lisas, and I’m afraid to read the artist statement, the first sentence made me not even want to look at the photos; but photo’s on their own… one of my favorite essays on burn, evah. Fantastic work. Thanks.

  2. I absolutely love this. I didn’t read the captions and I don’t think I need to – the essay has such a strong visual narrative it’s amazing. Great stuff!

  3. My visits there were not all gloom and doom as portrayed here …… but then again I do have enough respect for the ex soviet societies and the people to portray something more than just the negative.

  4. Strong images. The written essay put it nicely in perspective for me. Did not read the captions was just overwhelm with the imagery. I need more time to digest these!

  5. “Anyone parted from his land will weep seven years. Whoever is parted from his tribe will weep until he dies.”- Central Asian Proverb, as quote in Platonov’s story “Dusha” (soul)

    How to express, as a foreigner, the world of a place that wrestles itself with identity, that wrestles with the language of collision and tribal enforced integration, that wrestles with artificial homes carved up not by language or mountainous place, or the swerve of a river, but by an arbitrary eradicating of self imposed by a larger defining identify marker? Of the many struggles that face the people of Central Asia, particularly those of the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia. A gorgeous menu of languages and names, a song really of sounds and rhymes, that in abstract sounds lovely and ‘similar, when in truth is a collision of language and culture and place and unending negotiation:

    Kazakh ssr, Uzbek ssr, Turkmen ssr, Tajik ssr, Kirghiz ssr, Karakalpaskaya ssr, …a musical scale…

    add to this: Turkestan Autonomous, Bukharan, Khorezem, Karakalpak, Kara-Khirkiz, Kokand, Alash, and you begin to understand that, in truth, Central Asia is more akin to a Borges story than our over-simplified notions of States or Nations or Autonomous regions…tribes?…villages?…maybe family shelters…..

    It is a near impossibility to begin to account, in any direct way, both the land and history and language and culture and stories and architecture, let alone, identity of that extraordinarily beautiful and magnificent region of the world…it’s complexity, both its triumphs and its tragedies, seems beyond the scope of a simple, straight-forward narrative….beyond the reach of trying to capture the ‘specifics’ of a place…it shall just elude you….always…….

    and yet, Central Asia is, for me, so rich and ripe for stories and exploration, that i always have profound hope and excitement when i see a photographer or a writer attempt to get at the place generally, let alone a specific ‘country’, like Kyrgyzstan….for Kyrgyzstan is not really a nation…but an artificial construct (as are all nations) created as a vestige of the Former Soviet Union and Stalin’s attempts to barricade location…the result of recent (but also a history that has always been true for the area) ‘nation-state buildings’…..

    where does that leave one, as both photographer/writer/documenter and as reader…..

    I don’t know….

    in the end, i tend to fall back to stories….the stories of Platonov…or the old stories from Central Asia…or songs…sometimes even film…or maybe the difference while eating different foods….

    For me, a good place to begin to get at Central Asia (a central asia that is greater than the ‘now’ of the current events) must begin with stories and books….Tiziano Terzani’s “Goodnight, Mr Lenin: A Journey Through the End of the Soviet Empire” (i love this book), Tom Bissell’s “Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia.”, Kapuscinski’s ‘Imperium’, ….or maybe begin with Herodotus….or stick with the songs, i don’t know…

    Why William, am I writing all this?…..

    Central Asia has a long and deep hook in my side too. I love Central Asia, and have read alot of about it, have been obsessed by it since I first read Chekhov’s journey across Russia, since i first read Platonov….and this has only increased since i married a woman from Russia and begun my own long-term project on Russia and begun writing about Central Asia, without having visited….i have students and friends from Kazakhstan, from Uzbekistan and from Tashkent, Samarkand and Osh…..and my hope is to also photograph the area…..

    all that said, this about your essay:

    The pictures are beautifully photographed and struggle powerfully and valiantly with both the history of the Kirghiz (tribal/cultural/ethnic/lingusitic) and it’s current plight…I do love that you have captured both the timelessness of history (that history of now is an accumulation of prior), that you’ve used the strength, roots, of the people you met to suggest a richer paradox: rootlessness. That Kirghiz is torn by, itself, the question of what is ‘kirghiz’….strong, powerful photography….concerned, sensitive and keenly observed…

    but what i would ask, and the question that Imants has implied, is that: what is, who are Kirghiz…and for me, that is always the problem with ‘straightforward’ documentary work, particularly as it pertains to both Kirghizstan and Central Asia as a whole…a viewer falls prey to the idea that the people of Kirghiz are this as shown…but, there is so much differentiating things there, that i want to feel,not just the pain of current events, but also the dislocation…the tribal, the historical, the individual…that’s asking for a lot, for too much….surely….but, gently, respectfully, i want the stories about Kirghizstan and c.Asian in general to be filled with more oddity…more fleetingly graspable…for isn’t that the truth there to begin with…..

    one of the reasons why i admire and love Jonas’ “Satellites.” so much is that it DEFIES both our expectations and the imposition of the identities imposed on the area from the soviet (stalin) nation building..and our own thoughts of what a nation of people is….

    make sense?….

    strong, beautifully sensitive and rich pictures. Many of your photographs are not only remarkably powerful and memorable, but capture something difficult: the strain of identity…now, like Imants, i too want to see that other side, that too leads to all the difficulties, of that place, not nation, but place….make sense?….i say that only when a photographer writes/attempts to ‘show’ a place…now, if you give me your personal, delerium and confusion (joy and sadness) that would be even more powerful, for that also shows me how the place as acted its own drama upon you…as it does the multitudinous differences of people and place there….

    sorry for the long comment (so tired)….and a place that has personal importance to me as well…

    congratulations William on being published and sharing with us your work. It is strong and beautifully composed/photographed….

    now, i just want to be taken into the delerium that is the land steeped in such extraordinary, rich history,

    all the best

  6. MW…

    i too usually think most stories could be tighter..but i just went through this fast five times, and i just cannot think of what i would take out..you suggested tighter edit…what removed?

  7. MW/DAH:

    as for the edit, my take:

    lose nothing…it’s tight….(too tight?)…..each picture is not only singularly strong, but is necessary….what i wish for (as William stays and develops) is to take the next step: get beyond the immediacy of the current events of the struggles of the state, but of all that: that more than 1 ‘kighiz’ people are at struggle…and part of that struggle involves not only the suffering/impoverishment/ethnic struggle…but the struggle of retaining….one thing, again, which Imants has hinted at, is that anyone who knows/spent time with people from this part of the world knows: that the sharing of the story (be it in music, in tales, in food, in laughter, in tears) is essential…delerium in a region and land that is tough…and celebrant song/joy is there too, which adds to the struggle…

    as an edit here, it’s pretty damn tight…nothing superfluous….can i plead for even more? ;)))

  8. In Osh, an Uzbek told me “we have been in contact with the Islamists. They will come and defend us. It will be the Jihad. It’s not what we want but we don’t have the choice.”…..mmmn that is just out of perspective out of wack and racially inflammatory on William’s behalf…….. take note he bases his comment on one person. Disgusting comes to mind

  9. For my photographic sensibilities,this essay ranks,easily,in the top
    three in Burn’s run to date.
    Is it an accurate portrayal of the country? Possibly not but it is one strong piece,regardless.

  10. Another “emerging” photographer with a long string of credits.

    Here is still another attempt to find meaning in the Republic formerly known as the Soviet Union. There is no question this is the work of a good photographer. But other than the technical and artistic quality of the photos, the places and people and situations look very much like others I’ve seen. Jason Eskenazi’s Wonderland, for a recent example.

    More and more I find myself thinking that we are trying to make photos carry more weight than they are capable of, presented as complete “essays” when they would be better at illustrating a written article or book. Photos can certainly speak to us, but their vocabulary is necessarily limited.

  11. I think it might be stronger without 3, 4, 5, and 8, but really don’t want to come off as negative. I like this work very much. Just don’t think those are as visually compelling as the rest. Strike me as more verbal-ish.

  12. Strong work about something I know nothing about. 15 sums up much of the 20th century for me, totally brilliant.

  13. Strong photography William; quite a diverse essay in that you show various glimpses of the lives lived by some in Kyrgyzstan. I thought that Bob’s post was very interesting and that he put some perspective on the region and its people. Whenever I read about or look at photographs from the region I’m always left somewhat confused as to who is who and where from originally etc.; such is the cultural and ethnic mix. Thank you Joseph Stalin.

    Like Imants, I too picked up on the reference to radical Islam and see a link from a conversation with one man tenuous at best. The problem is more likely to do with attempting to write a short intro rather than anything else.

    It looks like a forgotten place.

    Hope you get to continue the work William, thanks for sharing and informing.


  14. BOB…

    great post…thanks


    yes, “another emerging photographer with a long string of credits”…assume that means congrats…for sure we are always looking for the very best emerging, so here we have clearly found one…and yes the vocabulary of photography is quite limited and yes any one of these images could have been used to illustrate a long text piece and yes a nice addition to the work of Jason’s Wonderland, a favorite…seem like all good reasons for this essay to be here…thanks

  15. MW…

    there is a power buildup to this essay imo…starts environmental and sets up the place..this may be why you think the earlier pictures not as strong..yet they are part of the music so to speak..low notes, yet important segue notes…you are most literate and i would imagine you preferring the build to a crescendo and then back to quiet, rather than all of the impact up front…

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  17. Superb photography.. makes me want to know more, and wonder what the solution is, if there is any.. if there is willingness to one, not that much from the people, but from the governments.. thank you!

  18. The photos are magnificent.

    The words, though, need work.

    I’m not a regular here, but becoming one more and more, and I often note this dichotomy. The captions in particular are sometimes incomprehensible, the essays inarticulate at best.

    Is it somehow blasphemous to suggest that the words deserve as much editing as the photos? English is not the first language of many of the contributing artists; judicious editing would improve the strength of their work considerably.

    I’m willing to help–not to interpret the photos, merely to make the commentary/essay/captions clearer and more articulate.


  19. I think this is the kind of subject that is much better treated thru multi-media editing, with videos, and if possible a bit of historiology on the place itself, since very few can distinguish (just in country names alone) the differences between the muslim ex-republics of the USSR. The photos here amount to putting a report on a UNHR (united nations) officer desk amongst dozens other reports on dozens countries, and before another dozens reports pile up.
    What was the “tulipe revolution”, William? do the conflicts distinguish themselves from those of other ex-republics, and how? Can the people talk?

    PS: if it’s only about photography and editing, ignore my commentof course.

  20. David, yes, I realize it’s a bit choice me complaining about a more literary approach to these things. I have this philosophy that a photo essay can be more like a novel– that it can be a longer form in which every paragraph is not a masterpiece–that it can meander a bit, have digressions, subplots, misdirections, etc. Yet through your influence I have become a downright brutal editor. Speaking in general, not of this essay in particular, whereas I used to have trouble cutting any moderate to small body of work down to 25 photos, these days I have trouble even approaching such a lofty number.

    Regarding this work, I’ve backed down significantly from my initial impression. I still think it contains some great photographs — excellent captures of the decisive moment, fantastic ability to capture movement, great take on the classic “men with guns” theme, etc., but I appreciate Imants’ point as well about focusing solely on matters of state rather than attempting a more well-rounded, i.e. realistic, portrait of a people or a nation. Also, the funeral pic grates on me a bit having seen it so many times before. Kind of perfunctory, I fear. Anyway, still great work, fantastic strengths as a visual artist, but still some room to grow, particularly in the more subtle areas of storytelling.

  21. kateelizabethfowler

    A truly expressive and beautiful essay.. you’ve captured so much more than traditional photo-journalism with your eye for light, movement and color.

    Also, thanks to Jim for the reference to Wonderland- another beautiful piece of work.


  22. This is the first Burn essay that I viewed for the first time on my iPad and I did so while sitting on the steel stairway of a school that sits just off the edge of the BEaufort Sea and it was very chilly and at first I thought that captions were not available on the iPad version and I was very irritated because I wanted to read the captions, because there were things I did not know but wanted to know. It is too tedious for me to identify by numbers, but, for example, was that gray-faced little girl in the rail bed surrounded by sad looking people of good complexion dead or alive?

    There was something about her face that still appeared to have life in it, but then why was she so gray? The very next picture was definitely death, so maybe they were two of a series. I pondered the question for a bit, very much wanting to belief that she was only sleeping and that it was just the way the light was falling n her, perhaps in part as a reflection off a light colored surface, that cast her in that deathly parlor.

    No, I decided. That was wishful thinking. She was dead.

    When I reached the last frame, I suddenly realized how to display captions. So, despite the chill, I went back through and read all the captions. I was relieved to learn that the little girl and all the people with her were merely exhuasted. There were many other bits of information that I picked up that I felt I needed to know but that the pictures by themselves, for all their striking and powerful excellence, could not tell me.

    So I disagree with the notion that the captions don’t matter.

    The photos: superb!

    The best Burn essay ever? I have noticed that many Burn essays are the best single Burn essay ever.

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