19-25 August 2016 #822

Children in time and space

Picturing Himalayan children and how little their lives have changed
Raisa Pande

Pics: Fritz Berger
Dolakha, Nepal, 2014

At a time when the availability of wi-fi determines the quality of communication we have with people near and far, it is difficult to fathom what life would have been like in the isolated regions of the Himalaya where the closest motorable road was as far as a week's walk away.

Until the 1970s, the lives of the people of the Himalaya remained distant and isolated from the mainland. In Himalayan Children, Swiss development worker and photographer Fritz Berger has documented children growing up in Sikkim, Nepal and Pakistan from the 1970s until 2014, and in doing so helps bring us closer in time and space to their realities. The images transport us back to the innocence of an era before roads and smartphones.

Pokhara, Nepal, 1974

‘I photographed my own children too, but photographing local children has turned out to be a more interesting passion for me. These children appeared very new, unusual and colorful to me,’ writes Berger in the introduction to his recent release, a collection of black-and-white images ranging over four decades.

Much like his previous book, In the Shadow of Gaurishanker (2014), a pictorial comparison of Dolakha from 1973 to 2011, Himalayan Children is a photographic flashback, and is informative and endearing. As photographer and documentary filmmaker Robert Frank would have put it, Berger’s work ‘contains the humanity of the moment’.

Gorkha, Nepal, 1996

The book is neatly chalked out into sections and comes to resemble a visual journey of children across borders, right from their birth to their advancement into adolescence. In addition to reflecting on the lives of the children and their assimilation into their surroundings, his pictures highlight the inherent cultural and social practices that are prevalent in the region. Where women from Nepal and Sikkim are photographed alongside their children, all but one photograph of children in Pakistan depict them with their fathers. Fathers play an important role in the lives of their children, especially in public.

Hunza, Pakistan, 1982

It is not difficult to tell the photographs apart: despite the similarity in terrain and lifestyle, the clothes, facial features and social settings make them easily distinguishable. However, despite their apparent differences the pictures fit seamlessly into Berger’s pictorial narrative. The photographed children look content in their plain, minimalistic surroundings, and are often seen helping out with chores. The images help convey the message more eloquently, adding personality to the pictures and reinforcing the lives portrayed, without the distraction of colour.

Himalayan Children

Growing up in Sikkim, Nepal and Pakistan (1970–2014)

by Fritz Berger

196pp, Vajra Books (2016)

Flipping through the pages, trying to let the reality of close and distant lands and times sink in, what grows on you is the realisation that the children photographed in the 1970s are in their mid–fifties today. And how little their lives have changed in the last forty years.

Kalam, Pakistan, 1987

This is a picture book, so the text is sparse. Even the captions only have the name of the area with the year, nothing closer. Words, where they do appear, are used to introduce each section and provide readers with a run-through of the writer’s experiences.

Berger has once again taken us back in time. Unlike his portraits of Dolakha, there are no before-and-after images here, just photographic documentation of what lives were like and how little things have changed for the children of the mountains even as they arrive at the cusp of change.

Read also:

Then and now