Giving the Gift of Photography to Isolated Reindeer Herders in Russia

Hailing from Moldova, a small Soviet republic marked by rampant poverty, human trafficking, and alcoholism, photographer Sasha Leahovenco brings an innate sense of compassion to his work and seeks to use his skill and means to better the lives of those around him—and even those who are worlds away.

The following video documents Leahovenco’s recent trip through deeply remote areas in Chukotka, Russia where he photographed some of the most isolated people in the world, none of whom had ever had their picture taken:

Leahovenco began his travels in Anadyr, the capital of Chukotka, photographing people in hospitals and homes, and eventually journeyed deep into the tundra, where conditions are so harsh that only small tribes of reindeer herders brave them. Each person photographed received prints of their portraits and Leahovenco reveled in their delight, forgetting his frostbitten fingers.

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One of Leahovenco’s major goals was to photograph the reindeer herders in their everyday lives.

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Leahovenco loved seeing the looks on his portrait recipients’ faces.

The Chukotka trip was a product of Leahovenco’s involvement with Help-Portrait, a community of photographers who seek out isolated or impoverished people who cannot afford or access a professional photographer, take their portraits, and deliver prints free of charge. Leahovenco is well-known among their ranks, having given the gift of photography to countless deserving souls throughout Nigeria, Haiti, California, and Russia during his various projects.

At TEDxChisinau, Leahovenco delivered a inspiring speech about living a life of influence through selfless generosity by using “whatever you have in your hand.” For Leahovenco, that’s a camera, but it can be anything—any resource that can in some way be gifted to another.

“What would the future look like if everybody would use what they [have] in their hand in order to help people and influence people?” Leahovenco asked. “You don’t need to have a title. You don’t need to have a Ph.D. or anything like that to be a person of influence. If you are breathing, you are an influencer, and my hope for everyone is [for you] to discover what you are good at, what you love to do, and [that you would use that to] influence people around this world.”

Beyond charity, Leahovenco runs a wedding photography business, which is based in San Francisco, California. He is also an acclaimed martial artist, having proven his mettle in Taekwondo by making the National Team at age 12 and winning the gold medal in his age category, and later by winning numerous awards in European and World tournaments.

“I believe this life is not about what we can get, but what we can give.”

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