Pradeep Yonzon calls himself an accidental photographer. It describes how he strayed into the vocation, but not the careful attention he pays to his subjects. His recent exhibition in the capital, Euphoria-presented at the Soaltee by the Chomolungma UNESCO Centre-was a studied exploration, and the 30 photographs had a definite touch of class-engaging, brilliant for the most part, and somewhat disturbing.
The man constantly experiments. "I don't like to idealise things. I like breaking rules," he says. This was amply on display-in the almost surreal Eternal Quest, the euphoria of The Uninhibited Artist, the humanisation of pottery in Solidarity, or the disturbing Passion, there is a lot of free play in his work. Yonzon doesn't fit the bill of a regular photographer in many ways. You won't find him lugging his camera around all the time, armed for sudden action.
It's also very difficult to get him to talk about the technical aspects of his work. "The mechanics of it are less important to me," he says. Ask him how he thinks his work has been progressing, and he replies: "The work is still in the same genre-part realistic, part abstract-but the subjects have changed. I like playing with elements-light, shade and solid forms. My focus is not on the subject itself. If the photograph is in colour, then the emphasis is on colour, tone, patterns." Yonzon believes most of the work comes from his sub-conscious. "When you start focussing, it modulates the vision. I see things then that I don't normally see."
"Photographs disturb people. I like that," says Pradeep. Asked to assume the role of a critic he laughs: "This is probably the work of a madman." Not one for a regular job, Yonzon was helped into photography by a relative. He started off with a Nikormat FT in 1978, doing portraits, attending functions and the odd assignment. "I never knew then that photography could have such scope, such influence," he says. He's a self-taught photographer, his knowledge and skills acquired by reading books and magazines and constantly experimenting.
What is it like being an experimental photographer in Nepal? Well, Yonzon thinks "one can survive," but says there's no culture here of people buying photographs for their personal collections or of business houses and organisations doing enough to promote such work. The lack of such a tradition kept Yonzon's pictures in the cabinet for a long time. His first big break came in 1991, when he worked along with several artists on a Goethe Institut-sponsored project. "I had worked for years, but was always unsure about how the public would react to my pictures. I just did not have a clue as to how to present my pictures to the world." That first exhibition did Yonzon a great deal of good. "It gave me a lot of inspiration, even though people did not fully understand my work."
Yonzon's done his share of commercial photography-fashion, tabletop and the like-but today he is more of a stock photographer. This shift happened over the last five years, as he decided to concentrate on the kind of photography that he likes doing. "There are two distinct parts of my work today-that which can be sold some day and the work that I do only for myself." He'd like to do it all for himself, and spend all his time on building a superb collection. But then "the other bit is for survival" he adds.
Yonzon also refuses to discuss whether his work is "art". "Art is that which has artiness in it," he laughs. He then hands me a paper with a quote from writer Susan Sontag: "Photographers generally claim to be recording, impartially observing, revealing, witnessing, exploring themselves.anything but making works of art." Many at the exhibition would disagree.