A Retelling of Nepali History

Nepal Picture Library is a shining example of entrepreneurship that has a culturally inquisitive side. As a unique people-driven entrepreneurial photography idea, there is much to learn from how photo.circle framed their objectives into a fun project.

The camera was introduced to the Nepalese in the 1950s. Initially, photo studios were at the forefront of this movement as where one would go to get their pictures taken. The camera quickly became a household object and is now a common feature in mobile phones. The volume of photographs has exploded while social media has made sharing them much easier. Facebook alone sees 250 million photos uploaded every day – that’s roughly 3000 photos every second.

 

Locally, on a physical platform, while extensive and expensive initiatives have sought to collect, preserve and digitize photographs before the 1950s, little attention has been given to the immense informational and archival value that remains locked away in the photographic history of countless photo studios and early individual photographers.

Nepal Picture Library, a photo archiving initiative that invests in our collective history is banking upon the wealth of knowledge that is hidden within these photographs. Early Nepali photos starkly reflect the feudal power dynamics of the country, however, post-1950, the photo studio became a place where people came to play out their aspirations, preserve their youth, and represent themselves. Similarly, early individual photographers were able to take pictures relatively free from the coercion of the state’s power structures and give a lens into the everyday world they occupied. These photos are the true history of the people of Nepal.

The Roots

Started by photo.circle, an organization that works with photographers, the Nepal Picture Library seeks to preserve and digitize the photographs of early Nepali photographers most of which are currently stowed away and are in danger of being thrown away. While the Picture Library is currently incubated by photo.circle, NayanTara Gurung Kakshyapati, one of the founders of the Nepal Picture Library and photo.circle, sees it as an independent entity in the near future. The vision for the Picture Library is to create a rich collection of photographs from the past. She expects it to facilitate research and will also actively reach out and share its collection through exhibitions, books and talk programs. The Picture Library does not intend to be just a static archive but will also engage with people and communities so that we can develop a better understanding of our common history.

 

Funding the idea

Since its inception in 2011, the library has been able to secure a number of small grants to put together the equipment needed to digitize photographs. However, it lacks the long term financial support that is necessary for the library to pay for its overheads, equipment and staff, if it wants to continue reaching out and archiving the work of early Nepali photographers. NayanTara is acutely aware of the financial constraints that the Picture Library faces, but thinks that the library should be able to generate an income source to sustain itself in the future. Her hope for the future is that the photos in the archive itself will be the primary source of revenue for running and expanding the archive.

Running a people’s archive

While copyright for the photographs always remains with the photographer, the Nepal Picture Library gains the right to reproduce, publish, distribute and sell the photographs in its archive in return for its tedious and time consuming digitization work. The Picture Library plays the role of an agent for these photographers and actively works towards promoting them while securing their fair use. The Picture Library currently sells prints from its photo archives to cover basic costs and expects its extensive photographic content will be appealing to various media outlets in the future. Profits from the sale of the photographs are shared between the photographer and the Picture Library, with the photographer getting 60% of the proceeds. While there is no financial exchange when a photographer places his photographs in the archive, it remains a considerable challenge for Picture Library to get them digitized. In preparation for Postcards and Beyond, an exhibition showcasing three decades of photographer Mukunda Bahadur Shrestha’s photographs, it took the Picture Library 14 months to digitize his collection of over 11,000 slides, negatives and prints.

 

What the future holds

NayanTara believes the exhibition was indicative of the interest there is in pictures from our past for photographers, viewers and buyers. The exhibition, held from 11th to 20th August 2012, was well attended, well reviewed, and sold almost 20 prints. Most photographers are acutely aware of the danger their individual photo archives are under, the show has encouraged more photographers to come forward and get their archives digitized. The exhibition highlighted the historical value photographs hold and the importance of preserving them as sources of valuable information. Through them we are getting a glimpse into our past – family rituals, political events and daily life.

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