Erdenet (Эрдэнэт), Mongolia: 1994 and 2017: A Photography Quest.

What began as a fun exercise to see how Ulaanbaatar changed over twenty years has evolved into a hobby of sorts. I wrote on another blog about my earlier photographs of Ulaanbaatar, many of which focused on Ulaanbaatar’s informal sector in the early years of transition to a market economy in the 1990s. As I noted, this business of finding the exact place to stand is harder than it sounds. The challenge just made me that much more obsessed with matching the shots perfectly.

I visited Erdenet, Mongolia’s third largest city, with my father and a few friends in the fall of 1994. I took a few pictures, only two of which are amenable to the “show how things have changed” task. I had no idea where they were taken, so I just had to explore.

The end result was pretty good—the 1994 photos were less colorful; maybe due to the time of year, maybe due to the quality of the film, paper, or chemicals. Twenty-three years certainly didn’t make the photos more colorful. But the landmarks are recognizable, the city denser for the newer buildings and more plentiful cars. Watch the video above to see the old morph into the new.

With this hobby, however, the journey is the destination. With a printed paper copy of the first photo of a large street in downtown Erdenet in hand, I set out during lunch to find the exact spot. Normally, this is a process of looking at landmarks on the old print and taking steps here and there until they all line up perfectly. I found some buildings that looked like the ones from 1994 and snapped the photos, but there were a couple of problems.

Problem 1. I had to take the 2017 photo from the middle of a busy street. No time to take steps to line everything up—the drivers were patient and smiled, but I didn’t want to push my luck.

Problem 2. It was the wrong spot. Back safely at the curb, I noted that the street in the 1994 photo turned uphill in the distance. When I zoomed in, my new 2017 digital photo showed no such hill. These photos have to account for many changes, but such a difference in the shape of the land seemed unlikely.

Wrong place
Wrong spot

After work was done I set out again and eventually found the spot; happily, the street was a bit less busy in that area.

Right place
Right spot

There were no cars to make the second photo dangerous, and scrambling around a hillside full of rocks that looked exactly like the ones in the picture was fun. It took a while, and the road was beckoning for the evening drive, but eventually I found the exact spot … or so I thought. I matched up a few lines of sight between the rocks in the foreground and the buildings in the background, and I was sure it was perfect. Then I got home, matched one on top of the other, and noted that the horizon relative to the rocks was different. I should’ve been further up the hill using a longer lens. Rats. I’ll try harder for the 2040 update of this blog.

Erdenet still 3
Erdenet 1994 and 2017. (Avoiding the pesky horizon mismatch.)

Is there a name for this kind of obsession, er, I mean, hobby?


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