Turning the lens on Nepal’s untold stories

Griffith photography students recently travelled to Nepal for a three-week study tour, revealing some of the untold stories of the tiny Himalayan nation.

The tour featured a five-day festival of masterclasses and workshops, followed by an intensive 12-day storytelling project which gave students the opportunity to work in the local community with a team of international mentors.

The trip concluded with a series of open-air exhibitions in the local communities the students had visited. The theme, ‘Utopia/Dystopia’, allowed the photography students to showcase the negative and positive aspects of Nepalese life.

Heading out of the classroom

Adjunct Senior Lecturer in Photography Earle Bridger said the study tour provided a unique learning experience for students from the Queensland College of Art and Griffith Film School.

“It was our first trip to Nepal and it won’t be our last,” he said.

“The kind of stuff our students took away from this trip can’t be taught in a classroom.

“They went out and explored all aspects of life in Nepal – following young Gurkhas from Kathmandu to the base of Himalayas, visiting Tibetan refugee camps, capturing the rebuilding efforts after the Earthquake and investigating rhino poaching in the national parks.

“These assignments raised a whole host of issues, from the role of women to censorship of the press, animal rights and third world labour practices.”

A life-changing experience

QCA Sessional Lecturer Shehab Uddin said the trip had been “life-changing” for the students.

“It’s always exciting being a tutor on one of these trips,” he said.

“It is a very intense experience for the students and they come back after three weeks with a new way of working and a different outlook on life.

“The doors have been opened for them – some of them are already keen to go back to Nepal.”

Digging deeper

Bachelor of Photography student Madeline Begley, 25, said she relished the opportunity to get off the tourist trail and delve deeper into life in Kathmandu.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” she said.

“It is very different to being a tourist, you really get to know the people who live there, and find out what is going on beneath the surface.

“Nepal has a very complicated political history, the civil war only ended 10 years ago, and the country is still struggling, particularly after the earthquake in 2015.

“There is certainly no scarcity of interesting stories and there are many ways of telling them.”

Untold stories

Madeline was mentored by renowned Canadian photographer Donald Weber, who encouraged the students to immerse themselves in the local community.

“He sent us out to explore the neighbourhood – he wanted us to smell it, taste it and see it,” she said.

Madeline chose to document the plight of underpaid garment workers in Kathmandu.

“It was a story I stumbled on by accident after visiting the local markets,” she said.

“It raised all kinds of questions about the so-called fair trade brand, where workers are getting cut out of the deal.

“There are so many stories out there that need to be told that aren’t being told.”

A deeper understanding

Final year Bachelor of Photography student Stephen Jigalin, 32, documented a family-run slaughterhouse in Kathmandu – an experience that gave him a greater insight into the lives of ordinary Nepalese families.

“It was fairly graphic and confronting at first – it’s not the kind of thing you see in Australia,” he said.

“But the longer I was there, I focused more on the family, and the local community.

“I came away with a deeper understanding of what people have to do to get by.

“It’s not an easy place to make a living, particularly in the wake of recent disasters.

“There were a lot of people in temporary housing, you could still see the rubble all around Kathmandu.

“But people keep on smiling – the Nepalese have beautiful souls.”


Engaging with the community

One of the highlights for Stephen was mounting an exhibition in the local neighbourhood.

“It was amazing to engage with the community and put on an exhibition of our work within the community itself,” he said.

“It was great to see people interacting with our work, people were laughing, pointing out photos of their friends and family.”

A steep learning curve

Stephen said the trip had been a steep learning curve.

“I really enjoyed the intensive experience – it changed the way I look at the world and it has helped improve my photography skills as well,” he said.

“Photography is so rewarding and it’s really a passport to see the world.

“After graduation, I plan to take my camera and hit the road.”