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John Delaney on Photographing Golden Eagle Nomads

Nomad Girl w/ Falcon, 2008 -- John Delaney

Currently on view at photo-eye Gallery is an exquisite exhibition of photographs by John Delaney from his Golden Eagle Nomads series. The photographs depict nomadic Kazakhs living in the valleys of Mongolia who hunt with golden eagles. We asked John Delaney to talk a little bit about his experience finding and photographing the Golden Eagle Nomads and the intimate moments he shared with the families he photographed on his expeditions in 1998 and 2008. -- Erin Azouz

We had just set up camp in a very desolate area when I encountered a very striking looking Eagle Rider. He was just passing through and stopped to check out our studio. I asked him to pose for a portrait but he very courteously refused. After sharing a meal with him he quietly mounted his horse, thanked us and rode off into the hills. Disappointed at an opportunity lost, I didn’t expect to ever see him again. 

Nomad girl with her family and John Delaney

Then towards the end of the day as the sun was sinking magic happened! He returned. It was one of those magical moments that every photographer dreams about. Leading the way, riding across the desolate landscape, was this beautiful girl princess riding with a falcon on he arm, straight out of storybook legend.

Her father and mother politely asked if I could possibly make a family portrait for them. Racing against the dimming light I quickly unpacked my gear and started shooting. After the family portrait I asked if I could take I could take a portrait of their daughter alone. She was poised and confident but never spoke a word.

After printing their portraits for them the family quietly rode off into the evening.

Son of Yuton - White Coat, 2008 and Yuton, 1998 -- John Delaney

On my return trip in 2008 I brought along 11x14 fiber prints from my previous trip in hopes of finding and giving them to my subjects. One day we saw a lone Eagle Rider in a white coat riding in the distance. We waved him over and convinced him to sit for a portrait. The special relationship and bond between this young nomad and his eagle was apparent.

Delaney's mobile studio
After the sitting I asked him to go though my prints in hopes that he might recognize and help me find some of the older riders. At one print he froze and tears came to his eyes. Ten years earlier I had photographed his father who had just passed away. This would be one of the only photographs that he had of him.

He stayed for dinner and we shared a bottle of vodka by the fire that night.

Over the course of the two expeditions, I took and gave out family portraits. It became a daily ritual that I enjoyed and cherished. I’ve include a few of those images. -- John Delaney

Family portraits by John Delaney

Read the photo-eye Blog interview with John Delaney here. Delaney also recently spoke at photo-eye Gallery about the series. Audio from that talk can be listened to here.

The exhibition continues through July 13th. For more information or to purchase a print please contact Anne Kelly at 505-988-5158 x121 or