Exhibition at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris in Cooperation with Himalasia Cultural Heritage and Educational Foundation, December 1997 with Additional Catalogue

Author Dr. Susanne von der Heide


The presented catalogue that was published in December 1997 for the Exhibition 'Changing Faces of Nepal' is a first attempt of giving a historical account on the development of photography in Nepal. Pioneers of early photography in this country like foreign and Nepali photographers, artists and patrons are introduced. Selectively the book will furthermore show around 60 old black and white photographs of historical important personalities of Nepal and of different views of the Kathmandu valley and other regions, demonstrating the rich cultural heritage and the splendid beauty of the country in those days. These photos were also shown at the exhibition in UNESCO Headquarters in December 1997.

These 60 photos have been taken before and after the earthquake of 1934 in course of about a century. They are printed from the original glass plate negatives, which have been preserved and developed through generations in the family of Dirga Man and his son Ganesh Man Chitrakar of Bhimsen Sthan (Chitrakar is a caste term and refers to the original painters of the Kathmandu valley). Different members of the Chitrakar family have been photographers for more than one century at various courts and are still partly connected with this tradition. The collection of glass negatives in the possession of the Chitrakar family of Bhimsen Sthan, particularly the work of Dirga Man (1877-1951) and Ganesh Man Chitrakar (1906-1985), is one of various examples of early photography in Nepal - one, be it said, in relatively good condition, the glass plates having been stored up to the present in their original wooden boxes.

The author's research has resulted that beside the various foreign visiting photographers, the earliest photographic activities have started in Nepal by Damber Shamsher JB Rana (1859-1922), who himself has become a photographer and gave opportunities for his young court painter employees to be taught in photography in Nepal and in India. He was the son of Dhir Shamsher (ca. 1828-1884), father of the photographer and artist Samar Shamsher (1883-1958) and grandfather of the important artist, littérateur and photographer Bal Krishna Sama (1902-1981). Thanks to Dambar Shamsher and to the members of his family more than anyone else, that photography was able to gain popularity in Nepal and to become the preferred substitute for expensive oil paintings. He and his descendants helped many families, the Chitrakars in particular, in a difficult period of upheaval to find a new source of income, respect and esteem.

An extensive research has been foregone in order to compile this catalogue and to organise the exhibition. The earlier resources, books and journals have often given informations contradictory to each other. So, therefore, the author has made endeavour to claryfy the informations and to seek the correctness of its historical accounts.

It was only possible to reach this standard of authenticity due to the fortunate opportunities of beeing able to visit still living dignitaries and their descendant Shah and Rana families, as well as still living artists and photographers and their descendants of Chitrakars and other families connected with photography. Besides free access to libraries and archives in Nepal, the author collected also extensive information materials from outside, in London, Paris, Delhi and Calcutta. Up to now there has been no precise information of the development of early photography in Nepal. One of the greatest problems in this context, surely, was identifying the sources of existing photo prints and glass negatives, any exact assignment being often questionable. By now hardly any living witnesses of the period remain, let alone photographers, who could provide information about their work themselves; furthermore, many duplicates of photos and even glass negatives are in circulation in Kathmandu, of most varying degrees of quality. Nevertheless, by means of detailed inquiries and visits to obviously dependable sources, a large pool of information has been collected. In the mean time the author has found precise indices to identify distinctively the photographies and photographers by examining the subjects and lay-outs as well as the settings and those days used background curtains and also the differences between original glass plates and reproduction glass plates.

Several publications on the 19th century and the history of the Shah and Rana dynasties are now available that contain relevant photos from the private collections of members of the Ranas and other families, though generally only the photo collections are named, not the photographers, since little has been known about these latter up to now.

The catalogue 'Changing Faces of Nepal - The Glory of Asia's Past' has been presented with the Exhibition of the same 60 photographies at the Headquarters of UNESCO in Paris in December 1997 for the European and International Audience. The Exhibition was initiated by the then Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, Ambassador Keshav Raj Jha and supported by the Director General of the Department of Archaeology, Dr. Saphalya Amatya. The book and the Exhibition have also aimed to promote the then forthcoming 'Visit Nepal Year 1998' in accordance with the National Coordinator of the 'Visit Nepal Year', Mr. Karna Sakya, and the Ministry of Tourism of His Majesties Government. The Exhibition and the book are edited and sponsored by T.T. Thingo, Ngari Rinpoche, President of HimalAsia - Cultural Heritage and Educational Foundation, Germany, co-operatively with UNESCO, Division of Cultural Heritage Paris. The book has been published and printed by Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Kathmandu.

The author, Dr. Susanne von der Heide, is an art historian and cultural anthropologist. In the last 15 years she has been doing extensive research studies in the Himalayan areas in Central and Southeast Asia. Since she has joined UNESCO in 1996 she has invested a greater part of her energy into protecting and promoting cultural and natural heritage of the same areas. Specially she has developed a great passion in the field of early photographies of Nepal and general history of this country, particularly from the 18 th century until today. She has been appointed as the Vice-Chairman of HimalAsia Cultural Heritage and Educational Foundation.


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