4-10 September 2015 #774

The last, the least and the left out

Jan Møller Hansen’s picture book offer a glimpse of the rough side of town, the dark underbelly of humanity that many of us would rather forget
Kumar Acharya

PICS: JAN MØLLER HANSEN

If Jan Møller Hansen’s picture book, Images of Nepal, was a tv report it would go with one of those extra-cautious disclaimers that anchors use: ‘Some viewers may find the images disturbing’.

Hansen, a Danish diplomat who served in Bangladesh and is now posted in Kathmandu, is a self-taught photographer. His hobby turned into a passion for social documentation through digital imagery and unlike other expats who inhabit Kathmandu’s social circuit Hansen spends weekends visiting and photographing people in the periphery.

Working mainly in black-and-white, the pictures are sharp, stark and offer a glimpse of the rough side of town, the dark underbelly of humanity that many of us would rather forget. Hansen drags us through the squalour of the garbage dumps to shantytowns, he takes us below the bridges over which SUVs glide, he makes visual expeditions to explore the lives of the downtrodden, the stateless, the untouchables, the outcasts. And yet, the faces we see are of hope, survival and a belief in the future.

Hansen is a regular contributor to this newspaper, and in the past four months has been documenting the aftermath of the April earthquake. What we see besides the destruction and grief is the tenacity and inner strength of the Nepali character, their resolve to rebuild. Hansen has also thoughtfully translated the book’s introduction and captions into Nepali.

Images of Nepal

Jan Møller Hansen

Price Rs 2,900

197 pages

ISBN: 978-9937-2-9535-2

As Kunda Dixit writes in the Foreword: ‘Even when you turn to the most shocking picture in this book (of the mother weeping over the tiny body of her dead baby at Pashupati cremation pyre) you share the grief and feel this incongruous sense of relief stirring in you – relief that you are still capable of empathy, emotion and an aching hurt.’

Hansen’s book launch at the Siddhartha Art Gallery on 9 September will also mark the opening of an exhibition of his photographs. The book and images will be on sale, with proceeds going to survivors living in shelters in Gorkha district. The book was designed and printed before the earthquake, but the exhibition has quite a few of Hansen’s earthquake photographs.

“I want to spotlight things that people do not usually see so that they can learn and understand society better,” explains Hansen. Indeed, the book and exhibition force us to confront the reality of Nepal today -- especially the lives of the last, the least and the left out. The result is that most viewers will find it difficult not to help in the struggle for equality and justice for all Nepalis.

Kumar Acharya

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