The Untold Life of Bridges

Jeanne Féaux de la Croix, Deniz Nazarova, Cholpon Zhumanalieva, Aidar Zhumabaev

Archival and Contemporary Photographs

A bridge is a piece of magic. They make things possible that were not possible before. Thinking a bridge assumes that there is something you want to step over, across, not have contact with. They are always placed, and can also be removed, very deliberately. Bridges are like arrows that point in two directions at the same time. But they also need maintenance, and people interact with them in all sorts of ways: trading, marrying, strolling across bridges. The building and destruction of bridges along the Naryn and Syr Darya river has changed human interactions on the river banks dramatically. Every bridge has its own story.

Construction of a hanging bridge not far from the district centre of Toktogul, 1960

Laboriously created, bridges are miracles, taking travellers into a third dimension. Bridges are a piece of freedom from being bound by earth or sea. Soon after its completion, this bridge was submerged by the Toktogul dam reservoir.

Central State Archive of Audio, Film and  Photo-based Documents, Kyrgyzstan.

New bridge across the Naryn at Kazarman/1984/Central State Archive of Audio, Film and  Photo-based Documents Kyrgyzstan

The experience of passing over a bridge directs your thoughts to a wider horizon. Bridges make you look: at the world around, and at yourself, from an unusual angle. This kind of angle can make you feel many things between joy and desperation.

This pontoon bridge served as part of the Farhad Dam construction site near Bekabad, Uzbekistan.
Central State Archive of Cinema, Photo and Sound Documents of the Republic of Uzbekistan

Adham Ashirov/Ferry on the Syr Darya/2017

This ferry connects people to their fields on an island every day (Village of Guldinov, Namangan district, Uzbekistan). Ferry prices 2016: pedestrian 700 sum (0.08 USD), car 3000 sum, loaded lorry 12000 sum)

Hanging bridge across the Naryn/Central State Archive of Audio, Film and  Photo-based Documents Kyrgyzstan.

Bridges are powerful ways of creating connections, but also of narrowing them to a particular crossing point. They can be a point of control and taxation, either by a powerful individual or the state.

Central State Archive of Audio, Film and  Photo-based Documents, Uzbekistan.

Bridge-building is a prestigious activity and can be a powerful political tool. This bridge was one of the first steps to creating the Kairakum dam on the Syr Darya, not far from the historic city of Khojand, Tajikistan.

“2500 Years of Leninabad”/Verxovski, G.C., Rotenstein, E.D., Haidarov, G.X., Marofiev, C.Sh./Leninabad at night/1986/Irfon, Dushanbe.

The old city of Khujand was located on the left bank of the river, while the right was considered uninhabitable, the scorching hot domain of giant lizards (varany) until the first city development plan by Soviet architects in the late 1930s. Two bridges were built in the 1960s and Soviet-style residential areas.  The left and right bank still maintain distinct identities, with the left bank residents considering right-bankers less respectable: this divide even affects marriage prospects.

Bridge across the River At-Bashy/1937/Central State Archive of Audio, Film and  Photo-based Documents Kyrgyzstan.

Many mountain pastures are only accessible by bridge: if the connection is damaged, then excellent pastures may remain unused.

Panorama Photograph of Naryn Town/1968/Central State Archive of Audio, Film and  Photo-based Documents Kyrgyzstan.

Before Naryn town received its current bridge, this place was long a point of controlling trade over the Torugart pass to China, and a tsarist garrison post.

Aibek Samakov/Tasattyq Ritual over the Altai Canal/2019

Tasattyq is a collective sacrifice ritual performed every spring in villages along the lower Syr Darya in Kazakhstan. Here, people have chosen a convenient spot on a canal bridge. After speaking a blessing to ask for plentiful water, the cow is slaughtered. The blood of the animal must come into contact with river water. There are some elements of appeasing the river – people pray that no one will drown – but the dominant Islamic discourse disapproves of these elements.

Overview of broken bridge between the village of Bazar-Kurgan and the Soviet Bazar-Kurgan District/1987/Central State Archive of Audio, Film and  Photo-based Documents Kyrgyzstan.

“You only know what you’ve lost when it’s gone.”

Gulzat Baialieva/2016

Until 2000, this bridge connected Kyzyl-Jar (Kyrgyzstan) and Uch-Kurgan (Uzbekistan), when the Uzbekistani government dismantled the bridge in reaction to the Batken conflicts and the rise of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The bridge still does not function, but there is talk of possible reconstruction..

Car bridge over the Syr Darya in the Ferghana valley, linking steppe and agricultural areas around the ancient city of Aksikent (Namangan oblast, Uzbekistan). Bridges do not necessarily create human contact: the labour that goes into their upkeep is often invisible.