When I started working with the new Portra VC films, the refined grain was evident immediately. The detail the negative held was amazing. Skin tones were even richer than before—and the lower contrast and greater depth of color were quite surprising. When I shot against the black background, with soft diffused daylight, the portraits came out with a classic, timeless look. Against a white background with straighter daylight, the images had a more dynamic look.
My equipment needed to withstand the harsh Mongolian cold. Every night, I brought my gear inside the tent with me, which I learned the hard way. One night, I had left my tripod in the car. At -40 F, the metal simply exploded from the cold. From that point on, I protected everything as much as possible.
I even slept with the film in my sleeping bag to prevent it from freezing. Rather than have the film developed in Mongolia, I brought it home and worked with a New York lab. Still, every time I delivered film to the lab I had this feeling of trepidation. . . followed by a feeling of elation when they called to say everything came out O.K.
I also needed to protect myself from the extreme cold. On my first trip, I brought polar fleece and other industrial layers, which were no match for the Mongolian climate. I quickly adopted the dress of the locals: thick sheep skin coats and heavy snow boots. If you’re considering traveling to extreme temperatures, do research on how the local people manage.
OBSERVATIONS OVER TIME
The access to people, places, and ceremony was crucial in my quest to document the juxtaposition between life in the cities and the country. Very little changed in the countryside during the six years; it still very much reflects life during the Soviet-era.
Change in the cities was fast and furious. In the summer of 2000, I found next to no fruit in the stores and no chicken because they couldn’t withstand the Mongolian winters. Now, fruits, vegetables, and other necessities are here in abundance. Cell phones, almost unheard of in Mongolian cities just three years ago, are as prevalent here as they are in the West. The city teems with bars, strip clubs and teens in baggy pants and baseball caps. Change is rapid; growth is uncontrolled. The result is chaos.
Even with these challenges, Mongolia and the Mongolian people remain my obsession—their strength, their warmth, their past, present and future.
FREDERIC LAGRANGE (www.fredericlagrange.com), based in Brooklyn, New York, specializes in portraiture, travel, and fashion photography. Born in France, he moved to New York in 1996, where he refined his craft assisting fashion photographers. Since then, he has contributed to many national and international magazines, including Vogue Japan, GQ, Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler, and shot ad campaigns for luxury brands such as Hermes and Louis Vuitton.