Nepal has been on my photography bucket list for years; decades would be more accurate. I’ve wanted to record the mountain landscapes, the tigers, and the photogenic people. But, I have to admit that a large part of the allure has been Kathmandu. And now I’m here.
Kathmandu. Just the name conjures up romantic images taken from old black-and-white movies with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Just as many mental images come from adventure books I read as a child. Old Nat Geo photos must be tucked away in the memory bank, too.
The reality of Kathmandu in 2014 is very different, I have come to realize. The city is, quite frankly, a mess. The streets are broken beyond repair, a jumble of concrete chunks and piles of dirt. The traffic is appalling and the air pollution burns one’s eyes. People walk the street wearing face masks from the choking pollution. Kathmandu cough is a recognized malady, which I and a fellow photographer contracted, with mine leading to an upper respiratory infection. The tangle of wires in the streets makes one realize that electricity here is a daily miracle. Yet, somehow, this crazy, congested city is fun to navigate with its myriad marketplaces and stalls that sell just about anything.
Today was my first full day in this ancient city, a crossroad between China and India. Soon after the sun rose I was out on the streets. Whenever I travel to an urban environment, I like to get up early and catch the marketplaces just opening, the hustle and bustle of produce, fish and wares being stacked up in hopes of good fortune. Anticipation fills the air and there is hope on people’s faces.
People often ask me how I approach marketplace images. It’s simple really, summed up in one word: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Respect to me translates into never shoving a camera in someone’s face; always asking permission before shooting; smiling a lot; and, most important of all, just plain listening.Why should anyone agree to have their picture taken if you have not built a relationship with that person?
When I was fortunate enough to be named Best Travel Photographer by the Canada Northern Lights Award committee two years ago, I was asked to explain travel photography to a group. To me it is two distinct components, travel and photography. If you don’t take the time to immerse yourself in the culture of the people you are photographing, you have missed the most basic - and beneficial- element of travel photography, namely the travel.
The best part of travel photography to me is interacting with people, listening to their stories, taking interest in their work, sharing pictures of our kids and grandkids, and laughing… a lot.
This morning was a natural high for me, walking about Kathmandu. I stopped to talk with a fruit vendor, a fish monger, a rug merchant and others. I learned a lot.