Kathmandu and its Streets: A Photography Journey

[Photo: @ Boudhanath Stupa, 2/11/2017; Google Maps ]

Link(s) to my street photography:

Shivaratri @ Pashupatinath Temple: The Evening

& more to come...

Situating Archives and Archivists:

Any attempt to represent any time and place is a futile and/or an arrogant attempt. But when power locations invest their power to “represent” their ideas of others’ locations and cultures, they usually produce others’ locations in/through their discourses rather than represent them. That’s why, I find archival project(s) very dangerous. If it is not aware and/or honest of its own situatedness, then out of ignorance and/or hubris, it ends up assuming some kind of authority or universally ordained right of representing and preserving its ideas of others as the absoluteness of others. And with “right” kind of language, access to resources, data, raw materials, and capital, technologically advanced infrastructure, politically-financially influential institutions, those archives become even more lethal. And the situatedness of the archivists and archives start becoming imperceptible and they conceal themselves behind the cloak of universality. The words and ideas like ‘culture,’ ‘local,’ ‘international,’ ‘global’ et cetera go unexamined.

Before wrapping up this section, let me put one thing very clearly. I was born in Kathmandu. I lived most of my life there. I think I know Kathmandu more than I know any other place. Yet, I know I do not know Kathmandu, let alone dare to think of representing it in my projects. All I can do is try to put my experiences through photographs and some alphabets. And while doing that, many aspects of those experiences (which are at the same time shaped by my situatedness) get lost in translation. They get distorted, compromised, and become porous. Archives are nothing more or nothing less than that. Either my “archives,” which do not have access to “right” kind of language, to resources, data, raw materials, and capital, technologically advanced infrastructure, politically-financially powerful institutions, or the ones which have access to all these, they are the same. The best they can do is be very humble and open-ended in their inquiry. They have to be inquiry-driven than claim-driven and they have to make it clear.

In the most possible simple language, that is what I meant by ‘Situating Archives and Archivists’ because they are always situated.

[Photo: @ Boudhanath Stupa, 2/11/2017; Google Maps]

A Futile Attempt of Situating Myself…

In some of my academic writings, I have called it an ‘ongoing project’ (maybe someday, I will switch it to ongoing non/project).

I cannot recall any point of origination for this non/project. I would say, it started to materialize before me because of multiple realized and never-graspable factors. Yet, I will try to remember whatever is accessible to me in those distant and recent memory lanes.

I was always fascinated by Baudelaire’s idea of flâneur. Or let me correct myself as flâneur is not only Baudelaire’s idea anymore. So, it would be more accurate if I say I was always fascinated (and tempted) by the idea of flâneur. Later on, I started associating it with street photography. It was rather a nice feeling when I recently came across Susan Sontag’s (1997) words from her book On Photography, “The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world “picturesque.”” [Along with this non/project, the idea of flâneur itself needs a constant interrogation.]

Anyways, to cut it short, Udeep and I bought a camera, rode on our motorcycle, and started hitting those roads. Looking back, those are one of the most moments. Many of my photos here will be the ones taken from moving motorcycle. It’s because of that, many of the images might be blur or out of focus as I could not adjust the camera according to the setting. But I never wanted to delete them. It went on like that for around a year. Some of my close friends are part of some of the photography journeys. These photographs will remind us of those precious moments that we did not take for granted even then. It will make us laugh, it will make us emotional. That’s for sure.

As I am writing it, I am realizing that I will never be able to put those nebulous networks and rhetorical situations that gave inception to what I am planning for this website. All I can say right now is I want to know Kathmandu even more. I tried to write a paper on it a year back as a part of Urban Studies project with Prof. Arun Gupto or our Arun sir. But the more I got into street photography, the more I started getting overwhelmed by the multidimensionality of Kathmandu that writing about it (categorizing and structuring it through words/language) seemed very intimidating. Photography is language too. And it has its limitations. But I wanted to start with that language. I am hoping that it will eventually help me in expressing my experiences with Kathmandu through alphabetic words too. That translation from photographic language to alphabetic language is not always necessary. But I have a reason to try that too, the reason, which I will disclose gradually.

Anyways, I wind up for now. What I already know is this is going to be most edited page. Whatever I write here, I know something very significant is missing and I just don’t know how to find words for them. I will revisit it later (again and again).

[Photo: @ Asan Tol, Temple of Annapurna Ajimā or also called Asanmaru Ajimā असंमरु अजिमा; 2/18/2017; Google Maps]

I misidentified my years of living in Kathmandu as knowing it

Now I am nostalgic and I am loving it

I know you are never knowable,

(as if anything ever is)

Yet, I know I wanna know you more….

[Photo: @ Boudhanath Stupa, 27/11/2017; Google Maps]

Recent Posts

Rethink Algorithms

“I always knew there is something ‘wrong’ with Google. But the representation of Nepali ‘culture’ in digital spaces started becoming a major concern for me after I moved to the U.S.”

It happened on September 21, 2017, in my first semester in PhD program and during my second month in the U.S. I was waiting for the campus shuttle to get back to my apartment. Just then, a guy came up to me and started talking. After some casual exchanges, he asked,

            “Where are you from?”
            “Nepal,” I said.

            “Where is that?” He asked.

            I did not like it. I never do. I felt like he had to know Nepal without any further references. Then, I remembered that there are countries I don’t know either. Because “no one” talks about them. [The question here is also “who is/are “no one”?”]. 

            And I said, “It’s in South Asia.”
            “You mean Philippines?” He asked.
            “Isn’t that a different country? Maybe you wanna Google Nepal,” I told him.

            At this point, I just wanted to be done with this conversation.

           “Yeah, you are right. I will,” he said.

            I smiled and turned my head to the street, continuing to wait for bus. And right then, something even more dreadful occurred to me. I remembered what Google might say about Nepal aside from providing some tourist guide kind of thing. Earthquake? Flood? Chhaupadi system? Discrimination against women? Some local rituals? And so on. Well, all of these statements are true. Who is denying that? But is that all that’s true about Nepal? What about other multiple narratives that are easily overshadowed by the dominant and much disseminated algorithmic exotic or damaging narratives? Don’t I, you, she, he, they, it, we, that, this also exist? I feared that this man from the bus stop might Google Nepal and start feeling sorry for me the way I never felt. I might feel sorry for myself in many ways, but not in the way Google would prepare a ‘stranger’ to feel sorry for me.

            I hastily turned towards the stranger and said, “Actually, I don’t recommend you Googling. Google doesn’t tell you much about the places you don’t know and wanna know more about.”

            I knew he wouldn’t Google anyways. Perhaps, he did not even remember my country’s name anymore. But from then on, I knew that I would never again say, “Why don’t you Google Nepal?” to a stranger.

            I always knew there is something ‘wrong’ with Google. But the representation of Nepali ‘culture’ in digital spaces started becoming a major concern for me after I moved to the U.S. It felt like postcolonialism and its debates started making much more sense to me after my move. People would already conclude things about me based on my skin color and the way I speak English in an “un-English” way. Why would or what makes someone conclude things about me in an absolute manner before even waiting to know me? What does it mean or why should it even mean something to be a Nepali woman, for instance? These questions are so pertinent to me after coming to the U.S. Why should it mean absolutely something to be someone from some place?