Nov 10th

2012

Postcard from Kathmandu

Quick postcard from the Kathmandu valley in Nepal. After 5 days in Kathmandu, mostly in the very Buddhist community of Boudhanath and the very Hindu area of Pashupatinath, we’re moving on to the Newari town of Bhaktapur. The last week’s been a blur as we’ve settled into a routine with this place, and each other. Before leaving for Bhaktapur we went back to Pashupati for one last visit with old friends, some of the many saddhus, Hindu holy men that have renounced it all,  that spend much of the year there on the banks of the holy Bagmati River. If you’ve read Within The Frame, you’ve seen photographs of some of them, and to be back there is always a thrill. Some new faces, and the absence of a couple that saddened me.

I’m always saddened, too, by tourists behaving without respect or kindness towards these fascinating men, avoiding eye contact, taking photographs and moving on without so much as a namaste or hello. Saddened mostly, I think, because these men deserve better than that, and the tourists with the cameras are missing the chance to meet them, sit with them, and learn their names. They go home with a snapshot and without the experience. So it goes, I suppose, but one seems a poor substitute for the other. And then on the flipside I see our students hanging out with these men, taking the time to ask their names or inquire about their lives, and it shows in their photographs, made stronger by the respect, curiosity, and patience they’re learning to make part of their process. A few more days here, and they pass far too quickly, and we’ll be heading in our divergent directions home. I head to Tierra del Fuego then to Antarctica in just over a week. Last year I said I’d be out of touch entirely and then blogged more often from Antarctic waters than I sometimes do from home, so I hope you’ll join me on this adventure.  It’s nice to be remote and unplugged, but even nicer to share these astonishing places.

Comments (9)
  1. November 10, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    I’ve always felt that the photograph was to help document the experience of my life path- and my way of sharing my interpretation of that moment , the best that I can, with others who weren’t there.
    I am curious- have these folks come to resent us? do they shy away from the lenses and people who carry them? or are they still welcoming as they are when I see you and your students work?

    • David

      November 10, 2012 at 8:27 pm

      Clayton, in this case the Saddhus make some good money. They work for tips. This is their job. I suspect the ones they resent, if that’s the right word, are the ones who swoop in, grab the shot and leave without respect for their request for payment. This conversation’s never easy and there’s always 2 sides of the debate, but in my experience most of the non-journalists that make the argument, seem to be arguing against generosity, or even against the right for a person to not have their photograph taken, and that baffles me. For me it’s as simple as taking out time, and being respectful. Furthermore, the more time you spend, the sooner they stop posing, and allow you in a little, opening the way for stronger photographs, though I think the images are far less important than the human considerations.

  2. November 11, 2012 at 4:33 am

    I’m glad that I have become one of the fans of your blog . From you which I can learn a lot of meaningful knowledge and helpful information . Not only that, I can also communicate to other readers some valuable experience.

  3. Dave Benson

    November 11, 2012 at 9:34 am

    I have never been a run and gun people photographer… or a people photographer at all for that matter… but should I slide into the realm I will remember these respectful considerations… sounds like a hectic tour, but the photos show it as an incredibly peaceful pilgrimage…

  4. November 11, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    I completely agree with you about the tourists. I’m in Cambodia right now, always trying to get up early and beat the hoards of people, and every person I photograph where I can interact I do. A smile, nod, “thank you”, etc. I show them the photo when I can, and try to be respectful. It just feels so against human nature to be detached when photographing people …we’re not at a zoo, we’re in someone else’s home.

    IMO, the world would be a much better place with fewer tourists and more travelers. :)

  5. November 11, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    Hi David, i do really agree with you… i find making contact with people i photograph very important… and as Nicole said – a smile, nod, one word (maybe in their language) i think changes much. :)

  6. Mia

    November 13, 2012 at 7:16 am

    This would be the trip of a lifetime for me. I am so glad that you share your images along the way of your journey.

  7. Carlos Celis

    November 13, 2012 at 11:20 am

    David,

    Now that you’re going to Tierra del Fuego and all that, I’ve started to wonder something. When choosing a place for a WTF adventure, the feeling I get is that you choose places that are both visually interesting, and well known by you. However, I’ve never seen a WTF adventure in Latin America appart from Mexico.

    I know you have been to Peru, Cuba, Argentina and possibly Venzuela.

    The question is:

    Any chances I send you information about Colombia so that you may consider bringing a WTF adventure down here? It’s not that I’m not open to go and see the world. It’s that I believe there is so much potential here! Colors, faces, stories.

    Carlos Celis.

  8. November 13, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Fascinating men indeed, they have given their whole life to their calling and certainly deserve respect.

    Black and white works so well on these images. Thanks for sharing them.