When he first started out, Jagdish Tiwari didn't have his own camera. When he finally bought one, he spent seven years just getting used to it. It was a tough start for one of Nepal's best-known landscape photographers. Now with one published book and another on the way, this freelancer places as great an importance on processing the film as he does on composing a shot.
Before the 60s, film could simply not be developed in Nepal. People sent their reels to London or Hong Kong. Today processing is a different story and an annual Rs 1 billion industry. Local labs sell and distribute Kodak, Fuji, Konica and AGFA products, making life easier for professionals and amateurs. But for laymen it's still hit and miss at some streetside labs.
Like Tiwari, ace photojournalist RK Manadhar gets his pictures done in Photo Concern. "They are Kodak dealers so they have a standard we can rely on," he says. He shows us a horizontal full frame shot of a woman carrying a doko along a dusty trail, weaving through a mustard field. The colour saturation brings out the contrast of yellow and green exquisitely.
Rameshwor Prasad Aryal, president of the Nepal Colour Lab Association, believes Nepali technicians are of international calibre. "So far, Nepal only produces enough technicians for the local market, but we could export this manpower," he says. His Rainbow Photo Labs has been in business for 19 years and has 14 branches. The Nepali technicians use mostly Konica technology and film products. "As Konica's trading partner, Rainbow delivers world class quality and service at very competitive prices," says Aryal.
Himalmedia's photojournalist Min Bajracharya has been on the beat since 1985 and tried all the top brands before settling on AGFA. "I find a warm richness in the photographs and there's good colour dispersion," he says. Bajracharya suggests matching the film to the lab-in his case, AGFA to an AGFA processing lab-since the film and processing equipment are calibrated.
To be fair, the blame for a bad picture cannot be placed solely on the lab. Cameras need to be cleaned and maintained. Film kept under glass is corrupted by direct sunlight or may be a duplicate. Photographic paper often isn't stored at the right temperatures.
Professionals like Manandhar take no chances: his fridge is stacked with boxes of photo paper and he divides labour. "I trust the bigger labs to do my processing and have the prints done at manual labs," he told us. If the end result is to be close to flawless, sticklers like Manandhar realise, "It'll never be perfect unless I do everything myself."