Nikolaj Møller’s debut feature-length documentary about a Danish Afghanistan War veteran living deep in the Amazon jungle.
THE LAST COWBOYS OF PANTANAL
Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetlands, covering more than 70,000 square miles of western Brazil and extending into Bolivia and Paraguay. It’s a natural no-go-zone populated by jaguars, anacondas, and hungry crocodiles.
Still, people live and work here: this is where I encounter some of the world’s last old school chaps-and-lasso cowboys – the pantaneiro. Recognised by their coloured satin scarves and wide-brimmed straw hats, they wear these insignia with great pride. One even carries a classic six shooter revolver, but confesses he can only afford to keep four bullets in the barrel.
When they are not out driving cattle herds across long distances, staying under the open sky for days, the pantaneiro live on a ranch with their families, tending to property and livestock while the landowners reside far away in a more comfortable location. The nearest neighbour is a two-hour drive away, and that’s in fair weather. When the torrents unleash their rainfall, the ground turns into impenetrable muck.
But these harsh conditions have long since accustomed the pantaneiro to isolation and made them fiercely independent and resourceful: they’ll butcher a cow and settle down for a simple meal of skewer broiled beef prepared in an empty oil drum, with moonshine liquor on the side. It’s delicious.
The Pelivan is a Turkish wrestler, part of a cultural phenomenon dating back to the year 1360. The Kirkpinar Oil Wretling Festival is the oldest sports competition in the world, celebrated every year in the Turkish city, Edirne.
A fight is often won by one of the wrestlers putting his arm far down his opponent’s trousers gaining full control of the other man; a common and legitimate move in Turkish oil wrestling. Once your belly button is facing the sun, you have lost the fight and you must leave the tournament.
Words by Zoe Cooper
For a week, photographer Nikolaj Møller visited Espacio Escutórico, an enormous concrete land art piece, created in the late 1970s by a group of Mexican artists. Since then it’s been a beloved landmark for artists, intellectuals and students alike. Here Nikolaj Møller documents the poetry of the 64 concrete pyramids, and the students who visited the place.
In the late 1970s, six Mexican artists – Helen Escobedo, Manuel Felguérez, Mathias Goeritz, Manuel Hernández Suárez (known as Hersúal), Federico Silva, and Enrique Carbajal (known as Sebastián) – came together to create Espacio Escutórico (Sculptural Space), a beautiful simple land art piece on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
64 large concrete pyramids sit in a perfect circle around 2,5 acres of rippling, black volcanic rock. A calm escape from the chaos of Mexico City, Espacio Escutórico is a favorite hangout spot for students and locals alike, who see the rough, brutalist art piece as a place to relax and socialize.
Photographed at Oltrecorpo Muay Thai in the city of Lecce, centrally located in the southern region of Puglia, Italy.
Oltrecorpo, meaning ‘beyond body’, is a center to enlighten the body and mind. Run by 6-time World Champion Fabio Siciliani and his brother Gianluca Siciliani. Both are teachers to the next generation of Muay Thai champions, including Mario Gerardi, Enrico Pellegrino, Gianluca Costa Cesari, Matteo Musaró and Gabriele Letizia.
The first time I was in Afghanistan, I went to the Helmand Province to photograph the Afghan Security Forces.
One day I was at a checkpoint and turned around when I felt a strange notion of someone standing behind me; It was a police man staring at me. One foot on a rock, holding his machinegun and his eyes locked at me. I took about six frames of him. All the same. No movement. We never spoke.
It wasn’t until later that I noticed the small, seemingly unimportant details of the key hanging from the barre l of his gun and his zipper being open. There’s a special feeling looking in to another person’s eyes, not knowing who they are. Them starring back at you. It becomes mystical – the interaction. Even years later, when it is through an image on a wall, looking at each other from different places, in different perspectives, there is an encounter. A special connection.
I’ve always been fascinated with the story of the man and his surroundings. The isolated man. The working man. The fighting man. But it isn’t the stereotypes that interest me. Even though it is soldiers and cowboys, it’s the stereotypes turned upside down. It’s the skinny Afghan soldier receiving three weeks of training, before being sent to the frontline. It is the Brazilian cowboy who can only afford four bullets in his six – shooter or the boys and men working all night catching bush crickets in Uganda for pennies. They live in the vast landscapes, in the jungles, in the chaos.
Many of them are forgotten or unknown by the outside world. Some, I spent seconds with, others longer. Like the Mexican mezcal producers. I slept at their homes for a couple of days. In a shed, on a concrete floor somewhere, or next to the fire keeping the mezcal cooking. We talked at night and during day – time they showed me around on their agave fields. We never spoke before meeting each other.
I simply showed up one day and they welcomed me in to their lives for a few days, letting me take their picture. To me the most personal form of photography is the portrait. It is someone giving themselves to everyone else Allowing their story, their face and eyes, their person to be forever. I rarely instruct the people in my portraits. I don’t ask them to stand or sit in a certain way. I just turn around and there they are. Looking at me. Like an anonymous sculpture only there for a short glimpse. These men continue to trigger my curiosity. I was there photographing them, I remember the moment, but that is all. Afterwards they become the person on the photograph more than the person I met. They remain unknown to me.
I guess that is why I always preferred keeping the men of my photographs untitled.
– Nikolaj Møller
Fanta was the first soft drink imported to Afghanistan. When Coca-Cola later arrived on the market, the Afghans, most of whom are unable to the read the bottle labels, nicknamed it Black Fanta.
The illiteracy rate in Afghanistan hovers above eighty percent and is even higher among the Afghan National Security Forces I spent time with in the Helmand province, one of the most dangerous parts of this war-torn country.
On a day to day basis, however, illiteracy may be the least of the ANSF’s problems: they are chronically underfunded, equipped with obsolete weaponry, and plagued internally by widespread corruption; many of the soldiers and policemen I encounter are heavy users of weed, opium, or heroin.
They arrive from provinces all across Afghanistan. Some end up guarding a roadside checkpoint for months, living only with a few other policemen and zero family contact. Others board a plane in Kabul to learn that their destination is the desolate Helmand province, landing on the frontline of a decades-long war after just three weeks of basic training. Some do this for sake of their nation, others to gain power and filthy lucre, some simply to earn a meagre living. Few of the rank-and-file ANSF members have any vision for the future of their country.
Still, they are the ones who must fight for it.