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Golden Eagle Festival 2016

The Golden Eagle festival, is an annual traditional held in Bayan-Ölgii. In the eagle festival, Kazakh eagle hunters celebrate their heritage and compete to catch small animals such as foxes and hares with specially trained golden eagles, showing off the skills both of the birds and their trainers. Prizes are awarded for speed, agility and accuracy, as well as for the best traditional Kazakh dress, and more.

Some of the hunters traveled for days to reach the festival on horseback. Indeed a very tiring journey.. but its important for them to do this , to maintain their culture and tradition.

This year has the most number of hunters participating. There are 92 of them, and 6 young girls as well. And of cos there is Ashol Pan, , who was the winner of the 2014 golden eagle festival at the age of 13. She was also featured in the documentary Eagle Huntress

This is my 2nd year conducting a photography workshop for the Golden Eagle Festival
Besides the Festival, we interacted with the locals, and find out more about the culture, food, and way of life.

Some photos here taken during the trip.. and although last year’s images were full of colours..

( you may see last year’s photos here
and here
and last year’s footage here

I decided to present this year’s images in Black and White.
Stay tuned for more photos and videos..
Updated… check out the videos here
( most photos here are taken with the Fujifilm XT2, with 56mm, 23mm, 100-400mm, and 10-24mm)

And for those who are keen to join me on the trip next year, do contact me .

Visited my host from last year..
It was great to meet up with the old hunter again.
He has since retired and his sons have taken over the training of the eagles
He was in a joyous mood and decided to sing us a song

His wife is working on the embroidery for his son’s outfit
A outfit that he would wear for the festival.
The old hunter telling us stories about the eagle hunting.

Preparing the eagle for the journey to the festival



His son dressed up with the embroidery that his mother has made.. and is prepared to travel to the festival


His son and a friend getting ready to travel to the festival


The family has also caught a wolf recently. We were pretty excited to see a wild wolf up close.  But they might eventually still kill the wolf for its skin in the winter.


They decided to bring the wolf out for a walk..


Just like their pet


Another son is helping dad to wrap a golden eagle to join us in our vehicle to another location to get their car. Yes, modernization is here.. not every one will travel by horses. And from the image below, you can see that solar panels are used quite often in the grasslands.


Regardless of culture, mothers will always be there to lend a hand


All set and ready to go.. hugging the golden eagle like a soft toy..  The family looks on as we prepare to leave


Grab something just before we drive off


We also picked up another hunter on the way.


As we travel to the festival venue, we see eagle hunters riding their horses to the venue as well. As we talked to them.. we realized that some of them really traveled very far for the festival



Festival has started, and the eagle hunters are parading in front of the judges and spectators

The young lady in white is Ashol Pan


Another young participant this year. Its definitely great to see more young hunters training the eagles.. and retaining this tradition even as modernization sets in




It is a festival amidst the the mountainous area. So there will be lots of food vendors and other people selling the kazakh souvenirs and handicrafts.

Alot of locals drive there to enjoy the festival as well.

Just a quick bite before the action starts


As it gets really cold outside, its great to get into one of the gers to have some hot food to fill our stomachs.


And the action begins

This competition will assess how well the eagles adapt to the hunters.

The eagles are released from the mountain, and they have to fly to the hunters based on the sounds that the hunters made

The eagles are supposed to recognize the hunter’s calls.  Of cos not every hunter is successful.. it also depends on various factors, the crowds, the wind,  how well trained the eagles are , and of cos the mutual understanding between the hunters and their eagles.


This is “Shyrga Tartu” another round of competition to judge how fast and smooth the eagles catch a lure that is made of rabbit or fox skin.



Tenge lly competition.  Its a traditional coin grabbing game while riding a horse. The coins are placed on the ground, so its a real test of the hunter’s agility



Besides  the action during the festival, there is alot of other photo opportunities as well

A Kazakh young girl with her grandmother in a traditional Kazakh costume


Little boys enjoying themselves in the car


A family outing to the festival


Another family.. its not uncommon to see many of them squeezed in a single car to travel all the way here to attend the festival



A Fujifilm Instax moment for the family

Printed the photo for them after taking a family shot


More action

Kukhbar competition.

This is a traditional horse back riding game … where they fight over a goat skin (tug-of war)


Some portraits of the eagle hunters


The champion for this year !

A spontaneous kiss for the winner


One of my participants this year, Simon, packing up after the 2 days events..


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William enjoys telling stories with his camera. Regardless if its your wedding, travels or even your newborn, he does it so beautifully through his pictures..

Couples enjoy his natural and artistic approach to their portrait or wedding sessions. Some of his customers have even returned for their famliy shoot after the wedding, year after year.

He also takes on personal projects traveling around the world to create images.

With a list of international awards and publications behind him, his images are also being represented by Modern Art Etc (Los Angeles, California) for sale as Fine Art Prints




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