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A People’s History of Nepalese Photography: Kiran M Chitrakar

August 20, 2014 , by Jerusha Rai, 3 Comments
A People’s History of Nepalese Photography: Kiran M Chitrakar » My Dreams Mag
Kiran Man Chitrakar’s lineage pretty much personifies the history of Nepalese photography with three generations involved. His awe and respect is palpable when he talks about his grandfather, Dirgha Man, who was the royal painter and the first court photographer. And his father, Ganesh Man, once the royal painter and photographer, also founded the first photography lab of Nepal. Accompanying the royals, Ranas and the ministers for their foreign visits, the Chitrakars captured some of the most momentous events of the country.
 
With a muted pride, Kiran Man explains: “My grandfather was 14 when he took his first job at the Royal Palace, along with his father. According to tradition, professions were inherited and the Chitrakars received traditional painting education from their fathers. In 1902, Gehendra Shumsher invited photographers from India to train Nepali artists. That was when my grandfather got the chance to learn photography. My grandfather transferred the knowledge to my father, who went on to develop the first colour photographs in Nepal."
 
It sounds like a fairy tale to work so close to the Royals and spearhead a whole new art form and technology but Kiran Man is just an observer-cum-photographer of his daily reality. Just like his forefathers, he has closely watched and recorded the rise and fall of country’s leaderships in chronology.

“I worked with the Royal family for a long time and toured with Late King Birendra on his trip to Dipayal. I feel a bit dejected to recall the massacre. But being an employee of the government, you have to comply with the directive of the administration. In the 28 years of my career, I have worked under 25 different governments.”

Dirgha Man Chitrakar (1877 – 1951)
 
Currently, the Director of Nepal Television, Kiran Man takes time out from his job for photography. He reminds us of the potency of photographs that is perhaps taken for granted in the present day’s smartphone culture.

“Photographs are picture documents that give you pictorial information of the past. My grandfather captured the photos of foreign delegates like King George V and Lord Mountbatten. It stands as a proof of what happened in the past. That is why I want to display them for the public. Nepal does not have a policy for establishing private museums, so I’m trying to figure out how it can be materialised.”

Kiran M Chitrakar (right) with a video camera at former King Ganendra’s coronation, 2011
“Kathmandu: Then and Now” is one of the projects that resulted from these ideals. He now aims to publish a book outlining the chronology of the photographs that begins with the ones that were captured by his grandfather. A similar project brought him to London recently.

As the year 2015/16 will mark the 200 years of Nepal-Britain relations, Chitrakar plans to put up a photo exhibition on this history of Nepal-Britain relations both in Kathmandu and London. He remarks: “I have all the photos and documents of different time frame. My grandfather accompanied Chandra Shumsher as the photographer-cum-royal painter in 1908 to the UK."

"Later on, I was the cameraman for Sher Bahadur Deuba, the then prime minister, on his visit to the UK. So our family holds a legacy and I want to put all our works together. Besides that, it could also help strengthen the relationship between the two countries. I’ve been doing my research here and met the curator of the British Library to get accurate information and documents for the exhibition.”
“SINCE 1895, MY GRANDFATHER HAD BEENMAKING NOTES ON HOW TO TAKE GOOD PHOTOGRAPHS AND ON VISUAL ARTS IN GENERAL. PRESERVING THIS WILL AT LEAST HELP THE UPCOMING GENERATION TO TAKE A GLIMPSE OF HOW PHOTOGRAPHY DEVELOPED IN NEPAL."
Dirgha M Chitrakar’s camera
 
Kiran Man is concerned about preserving his arsenal of photographs that hold historical significance. “I am interested in opening a photography museum in Nepal,” he continues: "But I don’t want to hand over my father and grandfather’s work to the government because I feel that those artifacts will be ignored. Neither the government provides any support to open such a museum. I am concerned about preserving the old negatives, vintage cameras, photographs and paintings. It is one of my long term plans; let’s see how it pans out”.

 

Nevertheless, his trip to London also involved consulting experts from the British Library. “I have brought along my son to London to learn the ideas of conserving old paintings and negatives. Some of our past works are showing signs of decay and British Library can help us control that. My son can get some ideas to preserve the artifacts as well," added the veteran photographer who hopes his offspring will give continuity to the family legacy. His daughter is currently a student of Art History and Conservation.
“THERE ARE FEWER LIMITATIONS TO PHOTOGRAPHY BUT THAT MAKES IT MORE DIFFICULT TO STAND OUT AS A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER."
Dirgha M Chitrakar (in white trouser), France 1908
 
 
Kiran Man aims to keep these artifacts inside Nepal so that upcoming generations can learn history. “Since 1895, my grandfather had been making notes on how to take good photographs and on visual arts in general. Preserving this will at least help the upcoming generation to take a glimpse of how photography developed in Nepal” says the man that belonged to a history and looks far into the future.
King Mahendra at fishing in Godawari, 1956. Ganesh M Chitrakar (right) in white trouser.
“There has obviously been a definite development in technology concerning photography. We don’t need to manually check the lighting. You have 25 megapixels cameras. You have photoshop for corrections. There are few limitations to photography but that makes it more difficult to stand out as a professional photographer,” he puts forward his perspective towards the current photography trends.

However, the man with the onus to maintain the legacy has high hopes for the development of photography in Nepal.

“THERE ARE ONLY FEW INSTITUTES THAT TEACH THE BASICS. IF THE GOVERNMENT OR EVEN THE PRIVATE SECTOR COULD ESTABLISH SUCH AN INSTITUTE, YOUNG PHOTOGRAPHERS WOULD HAVE A BETTER SCOPE. AND, PROVIDED THE COPYRIGHT LAWS ARE MAINTAINED, NEPAL WILL SEE FURTHER DEVELOPMENT IN PHOTOGRAPHY."
Dirgha M in camera,Kathmandu, 1933.
 
“Back in the past, it was really difficult to make a living out of photography alone. But as news media, magazines and the fashion industry have all developed; there is a wide range of scope for photographers. The only problem is that we still do not have college level photography education."

"There are only few institutes that teach the basics. If the government or even the private sector could establish such an institute, young photographers would have a better scope. And, provided the copyright laws are maintained, Nepal will see further development in photography.”

Kiran M Chitrakar with camera during King Birendra’s visit to France
Kiran Man and his generation are the legends for Nepali photography who have not only mastered in their own field but also provide adequate documents to keep the records of an old time Nepal. The Chitrakars have handed over history of a certain time frame to the upcoming generation and the biggest asset for the country is it remain intact. They have not only preserved the art but also the history that will be important for centuries. Their concern over having a photography museum in Nepal is no doubt a huge thing for the country. The events in a country’s timeline will be forgotten as future unfolds but the records will always keep them alive.
In Conversation with Jerusha Rai.
Photo courtesy: Kiran M Chitrakar.
 

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Categorised in: Arts, People, Retro Chic

3 comments on “A People’s History of Nepalese Photography: Kiran M Chitrakar

  1. Karishma Karki says:

    Thank you for the information galore. The work of Mr. Chitrakar if chronicled properly can definitely be included in the Mass Communication and Journalism text books, in history of Nepali media. In St. Mary’s School we extensively give a hands on experience and workshops on photography to Mass Communication students, which no other school does in the high school level.

  2. Ram Ram says:

    This is one of the best articles I have read about photography. In this current climate of smart phones and every Tom, Dick and Harry claiming themselves to be a photographer, Kiran Chitrakar is a true inspiration.

  3. I admire you sir and i would like to request you for your help … i have to Published our Temple picture in the ocassion of Lhurupuni Nakha Ajima Jatra , i need Picture apicture of Pasiko Ajima Temple ,Tindhara Pathasala. I tried to find out but i did not got, i hope you have that picture from Pasiko Ajima,Tindhara pathasala. Hope you will provide me.

    Thank you

    with regards

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