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“An endless love story”: Claudine Doury returns to the Amur River to photograph its people

For Claudine Doury, a French photographer living in Paris, her creativity was sparked at the ripe age of nine, as soon as she’d met a professional working in the medium. “She was taking illustration pictures for the press and was coming to my village looking for children as models,” she tells It’s Nice That, reminiscing about the exact moment in time. Two years later, she’d also connected with her drawing teacher who was also by chance a photographer. “I had realised that photography was a fantastic medium to express myself and to get in contact with people.”

However, it wasn’t a quick and easy process for Claudine. She went on to study journalism, worked as a picture editor for Gamma Agency, based in Paris, then for Contact Press Images in New York, before pursuing a role at the French newspaper, Liberation. “I became a photographer in 1989 and joined (photography) Agency VU shortly after,” she says. Then, after a long stint working for the press, Claudine soon realised that she had a desire to build long-term projects that have an impact. She has since gone on to do many wonderful things. Her first monograph, Peuples de Sibérie, was published in 1999 and she has since produced Artek, un été en Crimée in 2005 and Loulan Beauty in 2007, plus Sasha in 2011 and various others. She also received the Leica Oska Barnak award in 1999s, the World Press Photo Award in 2000 and the Prix Niepce in 2004.

The year she departed from the press and moved into the realms of photography was also the year that the Soviet Union collapsed. She decided upon the Amur River, the world’s tenth longest river stretching the border between the Russian Far East and Northeastern China, as her next destination. “I instantly decided to go to the very end of this country-continent (Russia) of which I had seen no image. The other reason was because of this wonderful name, Amur (translated to ‘Amour’ in French) – I wanted to go to the river of Love.” Having learnt Russian during school, this enabled her to meet Siberian natives, named the Nanaïs, whose existence she was not aware of previously. After stumbling across a small museum in the city of Blagoveshtchensk, Russia, she’d laid eyes on an old photograph of an “Orochon woman and her child”, that instantly reminded her of Edward Curtis’ photographs of Native Americans. “This photo decided my first long-term project.”

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