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Astana, Kazakhstan • 27 October 2022

Kazakh Photographer Featured by Apple Takes 1,000 Portraits of Strangers

Darkhan Zhagiparov creates a wholesome series of photographs in Astana

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Instagram: @m1dwaaay
Instagram: @m1dwaaay

“What do Kazakhs look like?” is one of the most popular search queries about our country. Astana-based photographer Darkhan Zhagiparov attempts to answer this question in a way he knows best. Darkhan runs an ongoing series on his social media called ‘1,000 Portraits of Strangers’, where he approaches people in the streets to create stunning impromptu photoshoots.

He started as a mobile photographer until one day in 2011 he borrowed a camera from his nephew to take photos of his pregnant spouse. “The magical moment”, as Darkhan describes it, grew into a prolific career.

QazMonitor asked Darkhan about the ‘magic number’, how many rejects he gets, and how his work ended up getting featured by Apple.

How did you get the idea for this project? And why did you decide to take 1,000 portraits?

The idea was born a long time ago, even before the trend [of taking photos of random strangers] took off on TikTok. My mom always tells me how my dad, who was also a photographer, would frequently grab his film roll and take off to his place or the neighboring aul. He would announce that he’s taking pictures and give the portraits to the people - so he was more of a portrait photographer. I thought it was a great idea and I should try it.

I mixed the original trend, my dad's idea, and a pinch of my "1,000 portraits." My spouse looked at me and said "why a 1,000, at least say a 100." I said "no, 100 doesn't sound good, but a thousand sounds powerful and cool." I don't know how long it’ll take me, but I'll pursue this project.

How often do you get turned down by people?

It's difficult to get acquainted with the characters of future portraits. You have to walk up to them, talk to them, and get to know them. Everyone says "you're a photographer, it should be easy for you." It really isn't. 

I've only been turned down a couple of times, but, in general, they always agree. I’m not sure why–maybe there’s something about me. But the very first person I approached turned me down. It was a security guard; he was a handsome man. I walk up to him, still inexperienced and explained my idea. He smiled at me, but said no because he was working. I started to think that I wouldn't be able to shoot a single portrait. Everything turned out okay in the end. 

Even before the project, your photos got traction on social media. How did you get featured by Apple?

In 2018, Apple left a comment under my photo of a boy climbing a fountain in Central Park in Astana. I was working late, editing photos.

When I saw the comment, I started freaking out; I jumped and yelled, waking everyone up. They didn't publish my picture though.

A year later, I got my hands on an iPhone 8 Plus. We did a Neon HubMeet from our IdeaHub team near the Alau Palace. We got together at the golden hour. The BMX riders were there. I noticed a shot of them jumping and a shadow falling on the pole. I asked them to repeat the trick jump and got it on my camera. I didn't like the result, so I got my phone out and took another picture just in case. A week later, Apple announced the Twins Challenge for photos with paired objects. I was like, "Oh, man, I have a shot." 

At night, [Apple] wrote to me, this time via email. It made me really happy. I was hoping that they would publish it because they said "your picture may be selected". Later, I got a notification from Apple informing me that my picture was selected for the first slide of their post. They also published the first photo [that Apple noticed]. It was posted a month later as a solo publication.

As for the third feature shot, the task was to take an interesting portrait without using filters. I took the photo at one commercial photoshoot, using a prism glass. This time, Apple had a mentor to choose the photo. I had been subscribed to him for a long time, and I was shocked that he chose my photo. He noticed it among a sea of submissions, which was really cool.

Going back to the project, people are not your only models, are they? Tell us about the photoshoot for the animal shelter.

They invited me when I just started filming people. The shelter has a lot of purebred cats. Parents buy the cats for their kids, who get bored after a while and abandon them. Dina, the owner of the shelter, has adopted 26 cats and 2 dogs.

I hope [that thanks to the video that got a million views on TikTok] at least some of the cats were adopted from there. They're all so beautiful! If I didn't have cats already, I would have picked them up the same day. The Maine Coons there were so gorgeous, I was just blown away! I hope that people who watched the video realize that you have to be responsible and genuinely love cats to adopt them. 

I've been offered to go to “STOP Capture” [ a volunteer organisation for rescued dogs]. I'm thinking about it for now. Dogs are very difficult to film, but I have an idea of how it might work out. I have a lot of ideas for socially important projects. They are hard to implement, but I think it will work out and you will get to see them in my Instagram reels, TikTok, and Youtube shorts.