Manik Katyal , Co-Founder and the Editor-in-Chief of Emaho Magazine
Can you tell us what this exhibition is about?
The exhibition has manifold aims: the main aim behind this exhibition is to showcase Kashmir in its different variants, show more perspective on Kashmir, the different sides of Kashmir, this shall also provide a platform to existing and budding photographers to highlight Kashmir’s culture though photography. Right now we have 3 Kashmiri Photographers out of 11 photographers but this is also because a lot of local photographers could not participate as they are part of news wire agencies and they do not allow their photographers to participate in any exhibition. I am curating the exhibition along with the Reminders Project and Japanese curator YumiGoto.
Is there an underlying theme?
The theme is about Kashmir, to showcase different sides of Kashmir in different time zones. From Ami Vitale’s work on women , to Showkat Nanda’s work on daily life and John Vink’s work on 1996 Kashmir elections and many others.
What is the purpose behind having the exhibition and holding it in Thailand?
Emaho is a very young organisation and finances are a big problem for us. The festival agreed to support this initiative hence it is part of an international photo festival, we are also trying to cater to a much bigger global audience and showcasing works which will give a wider perspective about Kashmir.
What were the criteria for selecting these 11 photojournalists?
It was a simple criterion -Work which is not based on the same old generic perspective of covering the political aspect of Kashmir. It’s not always about showcasing Kashmir in a sympathetic manner. We don’t have any political agenda and neither do we intend to create any controversy. It’s a show entirely focused upon good photographic content and that’s about it. In this curated show, each body of work differs from each other and has its own relevance and importance, e.g. Robert Nickelsberg’s work of 1989 has a historic value because that was the time when not too many photographers were documenting Kashmir.
How did your collaboration with YumiGato happen?
I am not a curator; I am the editor-in-chief of Emaho Magazine. I curate the magazine but had never curated a photography show earlier. I asked Yumi to be part of this as she is some one who has been a very big support. Together we tried our best to make this show an interesting one. It was a learning experience for me.
These photojournalists have an immense experience of the ground zero in Kashmir. How did you both manage to rope in some of the most accomplished photojournalists in the world?
It was difficult, we had more local photographers participating in the beginning and that was the prior aim. But then they never got permissions from their superiors to participate and in the mean time I had contacted these photographers that if they would like to support our initiative and be part of it. I was more than glad to see that each of the participating photographers realized the need of something like this.
Why a period of 25 years specifically?
Initially we had not planned to showcase the last 25 years. But some people backed out in the beginning, it led to an interesting showcase of the last 25 years with 11 participating photographers. Amit Mehra’s work was the last one to be included and is a brilliant showcase of Kashmir in its own way. His body of work is curated by Devika Daulet Singh.
Showkat Nanda, Freelance Photojournalist
What influence does being a Kashmiri have on your theme of photography and what is your take on this initiative taken by Emaho Magazine?
Being a Kashmiri means having grown up with experiences which not only shaped my perception about the world but it gave a new dimension to the way I expressed myself. The unique experiences I had during my childhood, my passion for visuals and an urge to tell stories of my people turned me to photo journalism. My photographs on Kashmir, most of which are conflict-related, are not only about the people I have photographed; it’s also about me. When I am behind the camera, I look through my viewfinder as an unbiased photographer. I try to detach myself from whatever is happening on other side of the camera. But when I look at my own pictures I become nothing more than a viewer- a common man who identifies himself with these people.
The initiative by Emaho is an extremely meaningful step to show the reality of a place (and people) which has so far been seen only through the prism of pre-conceived beliefs. I think Kashmir needs to be seen from a different angle now and Emaho is striving towards that. This initiative would be a wonderful opportunity for young photographers to expose themselves to new trends in documentary photo journalism and present themselves to a larger audience.
You have covered stories from different corners of the world now. Is it different from Kashmir?
Well, every place is different in one sense or the other. For a photographer, context is extremely important. The work I have done in Kashmir is obviously different from what I have been doing here in US because of the varying socio-political context. It’s often challenging for a photographer to come out of his comfort zone and shoot something that’s entirely different. For instance, for me who has always been photographing different aspects of the political conflict in Kashmir, shooting a national football game or climate change or even daily life in a different setting like US is bound be a different experience. It always feels good when I make compelling pictures at a place I know nothing about. But I believe that your best comes from a place you know the best. For me, that’s Kashmir.
How is it to cover conflict in Kashmir when the violence is at its peak?
Kashmir has always been difficult to cover irrespective of whether the situation is violent or relatively peaceful. I don’t think the most difficult thing for a photographer in Kashmir is violence, but to deal with the situation emotionally.
When the violence is at its peak, the sufferings people go through are enormous too. At that time it’s extremely difficult to detach yourself from what’s happening on other side of the camera. To deal with that emotional dilemma is extremely difficult.