The Aral Sea

Photography : Laurent WEYL    

At the entrance to Aralsk, this arch reminds travellers that they are on Kazakh territory. The Russians abandoned this place to the mercy of wind and snow.
The ice must be dug out with a sharp instrument in order to place the nets.
Steppe between Aralsk and Tastobek. Any journeys in winter are undertaken in several vehicles as the road is very difficult.
Tastobek fishing village. Every day, herds of camels traverse the village on their way to pasture.
There is no running water. It has to be fetched from the well and brought back by camel.
At the beginning of winter, they clean off the summer algae from their nets.
At six to seven years old, children know how to handle and ride a camel.
The camel can’t work on the ice unless it is covered with a layer of snow, otherwise its feet slip like a cat.
Le chameau emmène les pêcheurs vers le point de pêche, à quelques kilomètres du bord du village.
The camels take the fishermen to the fishing places, several kilometres from the village.
Fishing on the Aral Sea. The man lifts and pounds the iron rod to make a hole in the ice. The camel rests: its role is before and after.
Pêche sur la Mer d'Aral. Il faut creuser la glace avec une masse pour pouvoir poser les filets.
Pêche sur la Mer d'Aral. D’un trou à l’autre, le spêcheurs comptent dix pas. Avec l’immensité blanche pour seul témoin de leur labeur.
The frozen layer can reach one metre in thickness. The discovery of a crack is stroke of luck, which guarantees an early return home.
Pêche sur la Mer d'Aral. Le chameau est attaché par les naseaux au traineau. Cette entrave évite qu’il ne s’enfuie.
The ice cutter, Jakslik, controls the movement of his net, impassive.
The cigarette break is the only pause allowed between each series of holes. The men don’t eat for the whole day.
One by one, the fish are taken from the frozen net.
Jakslik sets the net for the evening. He'll be back tomorrow to go over it.
The carpets of empty shells show that this ground was once submerged.
The blackmarketeers, or « kommersants », have arrived to buy fish. Each family brings its catch, sometimes meagre.
Fishing on the Aral Sea. The man lifts and pounds the iron rod to make a hole in the ice. The camel rests: its role is before and after.
Village de pêcheur de Tastobek. Des « kommersants » sont arrivés pour acheter le poisson. Il partira en camion vers la ville.
Each house has its wood pile to keep the stove going, which serves as a hot plate and heater.
Several kilometres from the village, palaces provide the eternal resting place. The cemetery is like a city of a thousand and one nights.
Guljamat serves the milk tea, seated at the end of the table. The cup must be half filled to oblige the hostess to keep a close eye on her guests' needs.
Village de pêcheur de Tastobek. Guljamat sert le thé au lait, assise en bout de table.
Guljamat even makes bread. Winter, Tastobek lives in isolation.
In autumn, Jakslik kills a camel. The meat is conserved in a shed and feeds a family the whole winter.
Guljamat is preparing a meal. The stove attached to the wall heats all four rooms in the house.
They take off their shoes to enter the school. One class for all ages.
No street lights to break the tranquillity of the village.
Several kilometres from the village, palaces house the deceased. To avoid being taken by the fierce cold, Jakslik prays on his knees, his hands clasped in front of his bowed head, while the mollah recites a prayer.
The herds are lead to pasture in all weather. Some stay several days on the steppe but the fishermen, with guns slung over their shoulders, check from time to time to make sure there are no wolves in the vicinity. The camels have developed a rough straight fur from which socks and jumpers are made.
Les troupeaux sont menés à paître par tous les temps. Certains restent plusieurs jours dans la steppe mais les pêcheurs vérifient de temps à autre qu’ils ne sont pas tombés sous les crocs des loups, fusil en bandouillière. Ces chameaux des neiges ont dévelopé une fourrure drue dont ont fait chaussettes et pulls. Village de pêcheur de Tastobek. Les troupeaux sont menés à paître par tous les temps. Certains restent plusieurs jours dans la steppe mais les pêcheurs vérifient de temps à autre qu’ils ne sont pas tombés sous les crocs des loups, fusil en bandouillière. Ces chameaux des neiges ont dévelppées une fourrures drues dont ont fait chaussettes et pulls.
In all weather the washing dries.
These fences seem so fragile in the face of the gusty wind.
Entre Aralsk et Tastobek La mer c'est retirée sur plus de 100KM. Ce bateau rouillé rappelle une période pas si lointaine de pêche industrielle.
The former port of Aralsk. Three boats are on display in the run-down port to teach the history of Aral to children "born after" the retreat of the sea and the period of industrialised fishing.
The rusted trawlers seem to be waiting for the miraculous return of the sea.
L'ancien port d'Aralsk Trace de l’ère soviétique et de l'époque d'une pêche industrielle. La mer s'est retirée sur plus de 100KM.
A security wall and guards aim to protect the abandoned buildings, but are helpless to prevent the poorest people from looting the last of the site's scrap metal. Survival in the form of a child's sled. With a little luck, this man will be able to afford to drink tonight.
L’espoir d'une nouvelle activité industrielle liée au poisson. L’association Aral Teniwi construit une usine de séchage et d’emballage du poisson pour aider les pêcheurs à vendre leur pêche à prix convenables.
Hopes for a new fishing industry. The Aral Teniwi association constructed a fish drying and packaging factory to help the fishermen sell their catch at reasonable prices.
Was Malevich here ?