Kishor Sharma is a documentary photographer based in Kathmandu, Nepal. He is also an important bridge between the nomadic Raute community of Nepal and the rest of the world.
Kishor has been a freelance photographer since 2005. He has worked at Drik India in Calcutta in 2008/09. He started working at photo.circle in Kathmandu from 2011. He has done an advanced visual storytelling course from the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus, Denmark.
I was directed towards Kishor’s portfolio through his most well-known project ‘Living in the mist – The last nomads of Nepal’. Over the years, he has been instrumental and unwavering in bringing the Rautes’ story to the world. In the accompanying write-up to his poignant series, he says, “They roam like the clouds; they float across the landscape, free as the birds. But there seems to be clash between the modern society and their relationship to it and their desire to continue their own lifestyle. After all how many generations can give continuity to this lifestyle, only time can tell this.”
In this interview, Kishor, among other things, gives us an insight into the commitment of working on a long term story like Living in the mist, about the challenges he faced while covering the direful Nepal earthquake of April 25, 2015 for TIME and about the recently concluded photography festival Photo Kathmandu’s first edition.
TFM: Tell us something about your childhood.
KS: I was born on 22 September 1983 in Bara district, situated in southern plains of Nepal. I spent my childhood there. My grandfather is a farmer, and he migrated from hills to flatland of Nepal, a year before I was born. I came to Kathmandu with my family in 1993. My father used to work in Kathmandu back then. I studied in a government school in my village up to class sixth, and then joined another government school in Kathmandu when we moved here.
After completing my schooling, I did my bachelors in business studies. I changed my subject to mass communication and journalism in masters, as I found special interest in photography and visual medium after doing a short course in photography. There was no proper school (still there is not) to learn photography in Nepal, so I decided to join journalism as we had a semester of photography in that.
What influenced you creatively when you were growing up?
I was an average student during my school and college days. I don’t remember any particular incident but when I started learning journalism in college, I was especially inclined towards the visual medium. My college had an exchange partnership with Drik Bangladesh and photography teachers used to come as a Fredskorpset (Norwegian Peace Corps) exchange participant.
I had a pretty basic idea of photography back then. I then met photographer Nilayan Dutta from Calcutta in my college, and through him I learnt a lot about documentary photography and photography as a medium.
Later I got selected as an exchange participant in the same program at the end of 2008 and went to work at Drik India in Calcutta for ten months. When I came back, I joined photo.circle in Kathmandu, which is working since 2007 as a platform for new photography in Nepal. In the meanwhile, I also attended several photography workshops in Nepal and abroad, which were quite helpful in broadening my understanding of photography.
Working with Raute has been a very rewarding learning experience indeed. Firstly, it has allowed me to work with a community that is continuing centuries old hunter-gatherer lifestyle. We can really learn from them about how little we actually need in order to survive.
How was the experience at Danish School of Media and Journalism?
I got a scholarship to attend two semesters at Danish School of Media and Journalism in 2013. Essentially I am a self-taught photographer, and had already attended several photography workshops before attending DMJX. Nevertheless, attending the school was very fruitful as I got to learn so many things about western photography practice and also about professionalism in photojournalism.
Danish School also teaches multimedia workshops where we had to work with video and sound, and that was a very good experience. Photo II, the second semester of the school was great as we got the chance to learn about doing in-depth and long term photo projects from topnotch working professionals of the industry. It was a good platform for networking as well.
Tell us a bit about your early working days at Drik India and photo.circle?
I was in Drik India as a Fredskorpset (FK) volunteer, as I mentioned. I was not working full time as a photographer that time. I was working as an image developer and occasionally assisting some photo assignments. This was a good opportunity to visit India, and learn about photography though.
I started working full-time in photo.circle from 2011 to 2013. During that period, I mostly worked towards establishing the Nepal Picture Library, an initiative of Photo.Circle to collect old family photographs to make a digital archive. During this time, I also taught workshops and did a few photography assignments.
What led to the teaching? Also, what would be your advice to someone who aspires to be a photojournalist?
I have been teaching workshops with photo.circle and also at Kathmandu University Center for Arts and College of Journalism and Mass Communication. I have always been interested in sharing what I know and that is how teaching started.
I’m not working in mainstream media, so can’t say much about photojournalism as such. I’ve always been interested in doing long-term stories and I think there is a scope to do that if you can tell good stories.
What’s been your most challenging assignment so far?
When the massive earthquake of April 25 struck, I was attending an oral history workshop organized by photo.circle. We were about 30 people in a room when the building started to shake violently. Later that day, I got a call from TIME magazine and they wanted me to cover the aftermath of the quake. I took the assignment but it was a really challenging experience emotionally.
I later assisted photographer James Nachtwey for TIME and we traveled to many places severely damaged by the quake. Being one of the survivors of the quake and to see so many deaths and suffering, that was the most challenging time for me.
Could you pick up one project and tell us about its making?
I started doing a story about the nomadic ‘Raute’ community of Nepal during a photography master-class with Danish photographer Mads Nissen in 2011. I had a few other story ideas for the workshop, out of which I pursued the Raute story at the end, and have been following it since then.
Since Rautes still continue to have the nomadic lifestyle and prefer to isolate themselves from outer society, it wasn’t very easy at the beginning. But, a few anthropologists, NGOs and journalists have worked with them already, so it wasn’t that difficult either. It took some time to build a relationship with them in the beginning though.
I first met them in Salyan district in the mid-western region of Nepal. Later I found them in Surkhet and Dailekh district in the same region. They usually roam around 4-5 districts in the western mid-hills of Nepal.
I’ve always been interested in doing long-term stories and I think there is a scope to do that if you can tell good stories.
Have there been any key learnings (personal or in terms of your craft) while working with the Raute community so far?
Working with Raute has been a very rewarding learning experience indeed. Firstly, it has allowed me to work with a community that is continuing centuries old hunter-gatherer lifestyle. We can really learn from them about how little we actually need in order to survive. They have been maintaining this lifestyle despite several challenges. While working on this project, I have also got the chance to travel to very remote areas of Nepal and understand the society out there.
How does Nepal inspire you/your work?
I prefer and have been working mostly in Nepal. This is the society I grew up in, and I want to do something meaningful here.
Tell us a little bit about your usual day at work.
Since I am not working full time anywhere these days, there is no fixed schedule as such. We just wrapped up Photo Kathmandu, the first International Photo festival in Nepal, in which I was involved an artist and also in the core organizing team.
How was Photo Kathmandu? How do you think it will help the photography community in Nepal?
The first edition was a grand success despite all the challenges we faced. We were planning for the festival for quite some time and were then suddenly hit by the massive earthquake of April 25. We were little hesitated to go ahead with the festival after that but finally decided to go for it. The festival was anchored in the historic city of Patan.
In response to a worldwide open call for submissions, Photo Kathmandu received a total of 545 bodies of work for its digital slideshow nights from around the world. From these outstanding submissions, 80 bodies of work representing 31 countries was presented in public spaces in and around Patan.
Photo Kathmandu also had 19 print exhibitions by photographers who have documented Nepal since the 50s. Overall, the print exhibitions at Photo Kathmandu attempted to piece together a timeline of contemporary Nepali history. Photographers featured include Phillip Blenkinsop, Bikas Rauniar, Kevin Bubriski, Prasiit Sthapit, Frédéric Lecloux, Toumo Minninen, among others.
Then there were a series of artist talks and discussions with photographers from around the world, curators, journalists, historians and others on issues surrounding contemporary photography and the issues they address. It also engaged with Patan youth clubs and other community groups to manage all exhibitions and events.
Nepal doesn’t have proper photo school as such and photography is still struggling to find its place as a powerful medium of communication and expression. I believe this kind of event will help promote photography.
What are you currently working on?
I am now planning to work on a climate change story, for which I received a grant recently. I got the first photo.circle grant they provided in collaboration with The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). As part of the grant, I need to produce one photo story based on climate change and social issue. I’m currently doing my research and will soon start the project. Also, we just wrapped up Photo Kathmandu as I mentioned, and have already started planning for the next one.
Later that day, I got a call from TIME magazine and they wanted me to cover the aftermath of the quake. I took the assignment but it was a really challenging experience emotionally.
FEATURED IMAGE CAPTION:
Living in the mist- The last nomads of Nepal
Kishor Sharma’s photograph is shot by Shikhar Bhattarai. ©
All the other images are taken by Kishor Sharma. ©