I recently attended a talk on an escorted photography holiday to Nepal, which was interesting, fascinating, thought provoking and inspirational. Just what you would expect from a country which hosts two of the world’s most important religions, Buddhism and Hinduism, the world’s highest mountains, and where the terrain dictates that time pretty much stands still.
After an introduction to the team leading the expedition, each member of the team spoke about what they got out of the trip, and what those who went on it could expect.
Your Photographic Why
This was not a discussion on the best camera bodies and lenses, of apertures and f-stops. The question that has to be answered is not what or how, but why. Why are we taking photographs? Why would we travel some 4,500 miles, to some quite difficult terrain at high altitude to take photographs.
Once you nail the answer to that question, then you have a chance to turn your snap into a photograph, something that will have meaning for everyone, and not just yourself.
The answer to that question from all those on the team, although perhaps expressed slightly differently, was the same. The camera acts as a connector to the subject, be it a person, an animal, a landscape, a momentary sharing of something, and from that connection we try to tell a story. One example was given of a portrait of a small boy, with the horrors of the 2015 earthquake etched onto his young face, the ruins of his village behind him. It is striking, but the next photograph, when the photographer had said something funny to him, shows a beaming smile, a momentary connection between photographer and subject that they and only they shared, and that is why he takes photographs.
The why, perhaps the key to all great art. Music, or paintings, or literature, all connects us. A representation of something is just a picture, a replica of an original. It might be pretty, but we do not feel connected to it. The photographer Susan Sontag said “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment, and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
Do you need to be a good photographer to take a photography holiday to Nepal, or indeed to anywhere else? No, absolutely not. Indeed a holiday with expert instructors is aimed precisely at those who are not so good. One of the presenters at this talk did not even own a camera before he went on a previous trip, and his starting level, according to the tutors and himself, was abysmal. You would never have guessed from the photos he was taking by the end of the trip.
One of the reasons for taking a photography holiday of two weeks (or thereabouts) is to completely immerse yourself in the art with a view to improvement. Day courses or short courses are fine, fun, interesting, but most of us are busy. We learn a little, get inspired a little, and then get back into the usual routine of life, and do not spend long enough practising what we have learned. We do not have the time to learn from our failures and mistakes or to feel that quiet moment of pride and satisfaction when you take a photograph that works, that hits your why. With so much to photograph, even 9 or 10 days will seem too short, one of the reasons why many people keep returning to Nepal. Should you photograph Everest in the early morning, late evening, or even at night, lit only by the stars? Yes, to all three.
You are working with a small group of others under the tutelage of an expert, someone who knows Nepal and its hidden secrets and how and when to capture them. Yes, it is competitive, you will want to take a photograph that is as good as….. well, better really, than your companions. But it is a friendly rivalry, one where everyone learns from everyone else. You are, after all, creating connections.
There are so many good photo tours about, so why would you take a photography holiday to Nepal?
On the photography side, the answer lies in the quality of the light, the colours, the textures, all of which combine to give perfect conditions for taking photographs.
There is no shortage of persons, places, animals, things to photograph. You can see life etched into the faces of those sitting for portraits. The bustling and chaotic streets of Kathmandu, the temple at Janakpur and the holy men of Pashupatimah Temple give way to the silent splendour of the Himalayas. The wildlife of the Chitwan National Park, with 68 species of Mammals, 554 species of birds and 556 of reptiles and amphibians will tempt you with the possibility of seeing and photographing rhino, elephants and tigers. Where else can you go trekking with Gurkhas and Sherpas, igniting dreams of Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing, of Mallory and Messner.
But perhaps the most important thing is how it will change and transform you. The people have nothing and yet are happy. By contrast, it seems that back in the West, the more we have, the more we want, a never ending pursuit of want, rather than appreciation and gratitude of what we have. You will learn to appreciate simple things like being able to flick a switch and have electricity at your fingertips or water by turning on a tap. You will understand the human connection we have with each other, and with our environment.
And you will come away with friends for life, your companions on the tour.
I am planning on running a 10 day photography holiday to Nepal next year with the help of some expert photographer tutors, the best local guides and translators and connections from some high level contacts in Nepal. If you would like some more information about the trip, please message me and I will add you to a mailing list.