French photographer Frédéric Lagrange first became intrigued by Mongolia as a child, after his grandfather – often a reticent character – told a vivid story about being rescued in Germany towards the end of World War II by Mongol soldiers.
“He was fighting along with the British, Americans and French in Germany and got caught and sent to a German prison,” Lagrange recalls. “It was the winter of 1944 when a battalion of Mongol soldiers were fighting in the area and set the prisoners free. As a child, when he was telling me the story, I saw the excitement and that it was a very important event that happened in his life. He was very quiet and not a very expressive person, so for him to be able to tell a story like that I knew it was very important in his life.
“That was something I really kept in my head, that event. Also those people involved coming from a place I had never heard of, a place I had never been to. Mongolia’s always had a bit of a magic in its name as well – for the people, for the place.”
Part of this magic comes from the sense of mystery attached to Mongolia. Rarely in the news in Europe, it has become symbolic of a far-flung, ends-of-the-earth place.
“It’s something you hear about but you never really know too much about, so there’s a sense of mythology, a sense of intrigue about the country,” continues Lagrange. “You hear about a lot of countries around the world but never really much about Mongolia. Or, for that matter, any other central Asian country.”