A Russian-born photographer has captured the startling simplicity and vibrancy of the Nenets—an ethnic group native to northern Arctic Russia—on his adventurous trip, during which he was allowed an intimate passage into their existence.
Daniel Kordan, who lives in Tuscany, set out to visit the nomadic reindeer herders in April 2021. With an initial dream to see and capture their migration to the north, also known as the “Argish,” Kordan was fortunate to experience much more.
He was invited to stay in a Nenets family tent for a week and found himself in the remote region of Yamal, a part of northern Russia steeped in tradition.
“Yamal surprised me,” Kordan wrote in a Facebook post. “This trip was like diving several centuries back in time. It’s as if you find yourself out of time in the tundra among the mountains, snow, Nenets, and their deer.”
In the language of the indigenous Nenets, Yamal means “end of the world.” It is a “remote, wind-blasted place of permafrost, serpentine rivers, and dwarf shrubs,” and has been their home for over a thousand years. For the Nenets, who are still nomadic, their lands and reindeer herds remain vitally important to their collective identity. The reindeer is their home, food, warmth, and transportation means, Kordan explains in his series, which was posted in November 2021.
Kordan, who stayed in a chum (tent) with a family, didn’t imagine that he would be stuck in a snow blizzard for days. He states, however, that this was just the “beginning of a long story.”
By staying in a chum, Kordan got the opportunity to witness the everyday life of the Nenets very closely.
“Lena, Pyotr Ivanovich’s wife, was hostess during the trip,” Kordan said. “Lena literally worked nonstop from morning to night: bring the snow and melt it, then strengthen the chum from the wind or cook us food.”
The food, he said, was simple but it was homemade and every bit delicious. Usually, he would be served with fish or venison with pasta. Kordan explains that Lena—who had amazing energy—would usually get food directly from an outside freezer. She would also heat the snow and sew clothes.
However, not long after Kordan quickly got used to their everyday life, he began to face challenges with the weather.
“It started to get colder. The first day was only about -5C, and the wet snow stuck everywhere. Then it hit -25 C,” he wrote. “Nenets people heat the stove in the evening, and then go to bed. By morning, the temperature in the chum is almost the same as outside.”
Through his stay, Kordan was presented with the opportunity to capture amazing images of the Nenets’ everyday life and learn more about their tradition and diverse lifestyle.
His incredible series features portraits of Nenets in their national dresses, the Samoyed dog, and adorable little kids.
“The Nenets people have incredibly calm children,” Kordan stated. “Not once in a week did I hear crying or screaming.”
Finally, the day before Kordan was set to leave, his dream became a reality: he set off on a snowmobile to accompany the migration of Nenets to the north.
“The event is large-scale and very beautiful: literally a dozen ‘trains’ constructed from sleds go through the valleys along the hills and mountains,” Kordan said of the Argish.
The journey took 12 hours, from dawn to dusk, with Kordan overtaking the deer, constantly looking for interesting angles to photograph.
Additionally, on the last night in Yamal, Kordan captured incredible pictures of the magical northern lights above the new camp.
“We have just arrived at the new camp, the Nets immediately set the plagues, melted the oven, and invited us for tea,” Kordan said. “The new place is incredibly beautiful! The mountains all around, the vastness.”
For Kordan, the trip exceeded his initial expectations.
“I got a lot more … Travel, adventure, communication with wonderful people,” he said. “Of course, we were caught by a severe storm, but the shots I got turned out to be unusual and my most favorite.”