SHIKHAR BHATTARAI : BEHIND THE LENS
Shikhar Bhattarai is a Nepali photographer, who having walked a number of the Annapurna routes several times, began to wonder what life must be like beyond the window of the trekking season.
His photographs of Marpha village in Mustang district were sparked by this curiosity. This work represents an attempt to understand the people of Marpha and their relationship with the land. It is a reflection on the silence and rhythm of life on the other side of Annapurna. The village and the people are beautiful beyond doubt. Yet there is a sense of emptiness about the place. Many of the young have left the village in search of work. And those left behind have a faraway look in their eyes, as if they too would like to go somewhere else. When a trekking season is over, a sense of desolation hangs over this striking landscape. People live in limbo, uncertain of what the future holds.
Shikhar Bhattari will be exhibiting his works in the second edition of Photo Kathmandu this year.
(Photo: Shikhar Bhattarai)
How did you get into photography?
My interest in photography started when I was studying my bachelors. I had a point-and- shoot, so there would be college in the morning, work during the day and whenever I was free, I’d go out with my friends and take pictures. I started to get serious when I graduated in 2009.
I started out like most photographers do, clicking generic clichéd photographs of landscapes and flowers in macro mode; basically things that I knew about it. There wasn’t any school to study photography, nor a platform that held enough incentive for me to go on a gap year and pursue it.
All that I did was look up things on the internet to get an idea of what photography is and learned from the. Along the way, Wildlife Conservation Nepal held a photography competition and
I submitted a picture. Clichéd or not, I won in the category of “Best Macro”. The image was shot by a point-and-shoot so it was a big deal for me. I got into more competitions thereafter.
Somewhere along the line I came across a site called Flickr where I uploaded pictures that I took, and they were received well. Here I made friends with various Nepalese photographers who were in the site. That’s how I came to know of a group called Photo Circle.
They would put up exhibitions and I would attend them and this experience, I’d say, changed my perception of what photography is. I thought there was no more to it than landscapes and macros, but
I was introduced to a whole new world. The entire concept of capturing a story or an emotion in a photograph was fascinatingly intriguing.
I was keen to explore this new world so I took up a week long workshop on photographic storytelling held by a French photographer named Frederic Lecloux and it was an eye opener. I took part in several other workshops to extend my horizons. Photo Circle was monumental for this.
(Photo: Shikhar Bhattarai)
What inspires your work?
I’ve always been inspired by nature and the stories of people. I’m very enthusiastic about trekking and I was always curious about how life is in those remote places when it is not trekking season. I wanted to stay there for a longer time and learn about the lives of the people there so you could. say that life inspires me.
What do you want to convey through your pictures?
What I want to convey varies from picture to picture. But the basic foundation, or the drive behind each photograph is my curiosity as a human being. Here in Kathmandu, we are not very aware of what happens beyond this pit. We don’t know beyond our city life. So I try to travel as much as I can to quench my thirst of curiosity. I don’t usually go out thinking that I’ll cover a specific story or topic. I just go out and along the way, I’ll find something that intrigues me and by researching on it, I unearth more stories. For instance, I saw Laxmi Khadka the man who has a long beard and is always in a white Daura Suruwal, and wondered how his life is. I mean, we all see him going about carrying a flag and painting, we all know him but we don’t know who he is. So that got me curious and I followed him around for three weeks to find out more about him.
(Photo: Shikhar Bhattarai)
How do you get good pictures?
There is no such thing as a “good picture”. Personally, what I strive for is “different”. I try to show the things that people seenormally in a different perspective. Now, being a professional, I have gone through millions of pictures of others as well as myself and due to that, a particular visual language has set in. It’s both good and bad. Like, when you’re starting out, you take pictures with a lot of feeling and freedom; and when you start to do it professionally, the feeling starts to wear out. It is good to know about the trends in the trade but it rubs the passion off.
What is your favorite work?
I haven’t really done much in terms of photography and documentary but the body of work that I’m presenting right now at Photo Kathmandu is probably it. It is still going on and next year hopefully I will go to Marpha and to do more. I don’t really have a favorite photograph, but experiences that are tied to it and that one has to be the experience while doing the Other Side of Annapurna.
What are the off- seasons like in your experience?
I move around quite a bit, and when I do, it’s not spontaneous or on impulse. The places that we see like the remote villages are seen only for a brief period of time. For instance,in 2012, Marpha Art Foundation organized a program called Marpha Residency in which they gathered artists for 2 to 3 weeks to do creative works. Back in 2006 when I went to Mustang for the first time, I was not able to stay in Marpha. So when I applied and got selected, I got the chance to stay there for 2 and a half weeks and that segwayed to many artistic opportunities for me.
As a photographer, it is crucial to connect with people. Me being a shy person, it’s hard for me to walk to up people and tell them to tell me their story. However, just by carrying a camera, people think I’m approachable and it helps me to get what I want and has rid me of my shyness.
Honestly, everyone has a story and deep down they wish that someone would come and ask them about it. And I as a professional have come to love extracting such stories that you don’t hear everyday.
(Photo: Shikhar Bhattarai)
Is there any particular photographer that inspires you?
There are many so it’s really hard to pick one particular person. There are so many admirable works out there that you like the picture but you can’t remember who took it. However, I really appreciate the photo journalists who put their life on the line in dangerous situations to get visually interesting pictures and influence you to step into the field yourself. Then again, there are just too many who are from a diverse array of fields to choose from.
How has the photography scene changed in Nepal over the years?
When I started out, there weren’t many photographers. I didn’t know anyone. I started to get in contact through Flickr and during that time, this was when photography was picking up. Maybe the cameras became more available and affordable and that may be why many people walk around with one. Organizations too have it easier now to sustain professional photographers. Workshops and programs cater to this interest and appeal to the masses. And since 2006, access to the internet has expanded and this too is a creditable factor for instilling interest among the newcomers and giving resources to whoever was already in the game. So in this way, photography has picked up handsomely over the course of 10 years in Nepal. Now, there are some challenges, such as the technical details of taking certain pictures, but they too are slowly being handled by workshops like the ones held by Photo Circle. I too give some classes on the matter and I find that the issues that were prevalent when I started out can be tackled very easily these
HONESTLY, EVERYONE HAS A STORY AND DEEP DOWN THEY WISH THAT SOMEONE WOULD COME AND ASK THEM FOR IT. AND I AS A PROFESSIONAL HAVE COME TO LOVE EXTRACTING SUCH STORIES THAT YOU DON’T HEAR EVERYDAY.