The Last Dagestanese Tightrope Walkers
Photograph by Jérémie Jung
In the south of Russia, in the republic of Dagestan, tightrope walking was a common practice. It is said that this now circus-like art was born here as a means to make one’s way over craggy landscapes.
It is difficult to find documents attesting to the origin of this art. However, it appeared in the 19th century as a way for warlords to gain an advantage over the Russian occupiers unused to this Caucasian terrain.
Then, little by little, tightrope walking became a way to earn a living in remote places where nothing grows. Troops performed their shows from village to village. It was very profitable, and so the discipline became attractive. Given the competition, the artists became masters—Soviet circuses came to recruit their tightrope walkers in Dagestan. There were villages like Tsovkra-1, where one says that all inhabitants could once stand on the tightrope. But today those villages are falling to ruins. There mostly remains nostalgia among elders, and a desire to move away among youngsters.
But in the face of this impoverishment, a few still resist—they practice as best they can. Others strive to pass on the skill, opening schools where everyone can learn.
and Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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This story was made possible thanks to Mallory Benedict at National Geographic and Ilyas Hajji and Lukman Nazhmudinov in the field.
About The Artist
Jérémie Jung (1980) is a French photographer with an interest in the Baltic area and the post-Soviet fringe where a high cultural and geopolitical tension intertwined.
Jung’s work has been exhibited at the Musée d’Orsay, France (2018) and the Rencontres d’Arles, France (2019) among others. His stories were published by National Geographic and the Washington Post among others. He received the ANI-PixTrakk award at the Visa pour l’image festival in 2017. Jung’s work about Estonian minorities was published in the form of a photo book under the title “Au Large du Temps” (Imogène editions, 2018).
Jung graduated from the fine arts college of Strasbourg, France (2002) and trained in photojournalism at the EMI-CFD School in Paris, France (2011). He studied Russian and Estonian languages at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris.
Jérémie Jung is a member of the Signatures agency since 2013.