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John Wendle December 10, 2012

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Azerbaijan.
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‘Blood Lake,’ from the series on Azerbaijan, Baku, 2006

Editor’s Note: This post celebrates the 700th photographer in close to five years who have been featured on Verve Photo. Thanks to all of the photographers for who have been part of this amazing collection of talent. Here’s to the next 700.

John Wendle (b. 1980, USA) graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where he focused on conflict reporting and photojournalism. After serving in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan on the Caspian Sea, his interest in photography turned serious while living in Azerbaijan, where he photographed violent, anti-government street protests. From grad school he moved to Russia where he worked as a reporter and photographer at The Moscow Times and in 2008 he covered the Russo-Georgian war for TIME. From 2009-2010 he photographed the civilian surge and the agricultural counterinsurgency in southern Afghanistan for an American NGO and then returned to journalism in early 2011. His work has appeared in TIME, The New York Times, GQ, the New Yorker, the Huffington Post, The Times (London), CNN, Channel 4 News (UK), Monocle, Marie Claire, PBS and the United Nations among others. He works and lives in Kabul.

About the Photograph:

“I’d heard of this place called Bloody Lake just outside of Baku, Azerbaijan. It is over the hill from the capital – on the outskirts, just past the Botanical Gardens. It was named this because the Communists would take the bodies of enemies of the state and dump them there. It was rumored that the current regime did the same. Like so much in the former Soviet Union though, it was rumor wrapped around likely fact. Baku is old, and has seen Persian, Russian, Ottoman, oil and Soviet empires come and go. The city can be a surreal and lovely mishmash of these histories and today is a rising oil empire again.”

“The girl in the picture is a friend who also liked exploring the bizarre corners the city seemed to conjure. We took a minibus, walked through the gardens and found a hole in the fence used by people in the neighborhood – mostly refugees from the Azerbaijani-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh and the Russo-Chechen wars. When we got down to the lake it had an eerie, sad and empty feeling. Children in cast-off clothing passed us in groups and muddy cows stood on the edge of the marsh. Black swallows spun and twirled over the lake. It is a forlorn place, as the edges of cities usually are. To me, this picture shows the beautiful and strange sorrow surrounding not only the lake, but also, as its people struggle to find their path, the whole country.”

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