Directors Directors Writing Kieron Hawkes Magazine

The Trans Siberian Railway

A Photo Journal by Presence Director Kieron Hawkes.

For as long as I can remember I wanted to do the Trans Siberian Railway. This obsession followed me into adulthood. In 2018, after finishing directing Fortitude 3, I finally decided to do it.

The route I decided to take was the Trans Siberian to Lake Baikal and then onto the Trans Mongolian Railway that finishes in Beijing. The trip is around 40,000km, covering almost a quarter of the world. The idea was to document the whole thing in cinematic photos. I packed my Leica Monochrome and a 28mm lens, flew to Moscow, downed a few shots of Vodka and let the trip unfold. Heres some of the results:

Leaving Moscow. Kubrick’s one point perspective came in handy as a way to frame due to the long lines of the train. 

The restaurant is the only place you can legally drink on the train. What you get when you order is completely unpredictable but with the amount of alcohol that flows in there it really doesn’t matter. 

I love this photo because it looks like it was taken in the 70s or 80s Cold War, Soviet Union. Photographing in a time warp is fun. 

Somewhere in Siberia. The train stops about 90 times between Moscow and Beijing for between 2 mins and two hours. This stop was long enough to get above. 

Again in Siberia. This town was relatively built up compared to some places along the journey. They did particularly good Pop Noodles in their local store I seem to recall.

A random pair of feet from a random passenger. Four people can sleep in each cabin. This was the best class the train has. It’s beautifully basic. 

This is my favourite shot from the trip. I don’t know why. It’s in Siberia, near the centre of Russia, almost at Lake Baikal. I love the framing, and find the clouds and the single bird haunting. 

Things almost went bad with these guys in the restaurant one afternoon. There was lots of drinking. Somehow it de-escalated as quickly as it had flared up. That was a tense afternoon but I couldn’t help getting this shot as they’re beautifully lit. 

Lake Baikal, Russia. This is the largest fresh water lake in the world. It contains 23% of the world fresh water. It’s astonishing. 

The landscape starts to change dramatically as Russia becomes Mongolia. Shot through the train window. 

The stunning temples of Ulaanbaatar are so cinematic. They allow photography inside while the monks are chanting but it felt too invasive and there was so much outside to shoot anyway. 

This photo was taken on route to a Mongolian yurt camp. These buffalo were grazing the land in the mid-afternoon heat, covered in flies and stinking. The photo is far more romantic than the experience of capturing it. I love this photo.

Street photography in Beijing. 

I hadn’t realised how high up parts of The Great Wall of China were. This is a tiny part of the mind-blowing structure on a foggy morning. 

More street photography. This time just outside The Forbidden City in Beijing.

I could have kept shooting for months.

Now I want to do The Silk Road.

Kieron Hawkes. #presenceteam