The flamboyant hair accessory is having an unexpected style moment in the heart of Mongolia, as this delightful photo series attests
Deep in a remote part of Mongolia’s Gobi desert, about 20 hours travel from the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, flowery hair scrunchies are having a style moment. It’s a sweetly nostalgic resurgence, and one we might have remained completely unaware of if it weren’t for Kerry Dean, a photographer who has just returned from a trip to the desert to photograph the goat herders producing cashmere there.
While working with the herders Dean stayed in a small village named Bayangobi, sleeping in a yurt in order to completely immerse herself in the local culture, and it was here that she first came across the wealth of chiffon-like hair accessories. “It happened spontaneously; a wonderful happy accident,” she explains. “After seeing and stopping to photograph the first pom pom girl on her way to school in the village, I became obsessed with finding more subjects. The word spread throughout the village quickly, and before long I’d have daily visits to my yurt from an array of beautiful pom pom wearing girls.”
The resulting photographs form a series aptly named The Pom Pom Brigade, and show a largely unseen element of life in Mongolia; pre-teen girls, surprised and excited to find a Westerner in their midst, and keen to show off their carefully put together ensembles. Encountering Dean must have been something like meeting a street style photographer in the middle of the desert, and the fascination with her shows; her subjects gaze fiercely into the camera’s lens, betraying the sense of perpetual amusement she claims was so prevalent among them.
Fascinated by this quietly continuing trend, and utterly entranced by the poignancy of Dean’s photographs, AnOther sat down with the photographer to find out about the cultural relevance of the pom pom scrunchie and waking up to find a gaggle of Mongolia schoolgirls in her yurt.
On the significance of the pom poms...
“The pom poms are worn as decoration and are remnant of communist times – each class within the school has it’s own colour. Also throughout the series a lot of the girls had some kind of tracksuit top, worn over their uniform. I loved shooting them in this incredibly whimsical empty landscape, with a traditional almost old-fashioned feel to the images and yet the influence of the modern Western world being so apparent in their dress.”
On the funny situations she found herself in…
“The village rarely has European visitors, which meant streams of school girls would appear inside my yurt, multiplying daily. Depending on how brave they felt, they would dare each other to run in and just stand in the yurt staring, and giggling. Watching while I slept, ate, edited and even when I was half naked changing. Having a crowd of pom pom girls observing me came to feel quite normal towards the end of the trip. On one particularly brave day they thought it hilarious to drag a small boy into the yurt and shut the door and leave him there.”
On her favourite Pom Pom Girls…
“If I had to choose my favourite I’d say Nandinchimeg Tserenbat, the girl holding the yellow plastic bag. She is eight years old and her parents live around 80 kilometres away from Bayangobi, where they are herders. The granny-like pose and the shape of her hands made me absolutely fall in love with her.
Second to her would be the twins, Enkhjin and Munkhjin Ganbat, in their matching tracksuit tops. They’re both seven years old and their parents are also herders. I photographed them in a few different locations, and they mirrored each other with perfect synchronicity, always with such a strong straight stance to camera."
With special thanks to Nana Ishee Battulga.