‘Photographers should be risk takers’CEO of Location Nepal and a fashion photographer Gautam Dhimal on his career as a fashion photographer, his fashion photo book, and Nepal’s potential as a destination for international filmmakers and photographers.
Life-size photos of renowned Nepali models like Sabita Karki and Aastha Pokharel greet visitors at a photo exhibition of Gautam Dhimal, a fashion photographer. The exhibition, which is being held at the office of Location Nepal, Mandikatar, features photos of the fashion shoot Dhimal did in Mustang in 2019.
“This is perhaps one of the first exhibitions by a Nepali fashion photographer,” says Dhimal, who is the CEO of Location Nepal, a company that provides production management services to international film production houses filming in Nepal.
On February 18, Dhimal launched his fashion photography book, ‘Himalayan Fashion Adventure’, featuring photos from his 2019 Mustang photoshoot.
In this interview with Post’s Ankit Khadgi, Dhimal, who has been involved in Nepal’s fashion photography scene since 2012, talks about his career, his new book, and Nepal’s potential as a photography and filmmaking destination. Excerpts.
How did your photography and filmmaking career begin?
My father used to work as a production manager for films and often handled productions of major national and international films. Some of the projects he worked for were Nepali classics like ‘Maitighar’ (Nepal's first commercially produced film) and Bollywood blockbusters like ‘Khuda Gawah’, ‘Johnny Mera Naam’, ‘Mahaan', and ‘Aadi Toofan’. So growing up, I spent a lot of my childhood on the sets of films. This early exposure to filmmaking made me fall in love with the art form.
My love for photography began much later. It started when I got my first camera, a Minolta XG-7, an SLR film camera. I began by learning photography on my own, and I made a lot of mistakes in the process. Later, DB Thapa of Photo Concern, a renowned photo studio, also provided guidance. But in those days, I was more involved in film production.
It was only in 2012 that I began my journey as a professional photographer. That year, Vishal Kapoor, a fashion designer, approached me and asked if I would be interested in doing a fashion photoshoot of his designs. Initially, I wasn’t interested in taking the offer, but I ended up taking the project because of Kapoor’s insistence. Since then, I have been working as a professional photographer and simultaneously running my company, Location Nepal.
Besides being a fashion photographer, I have even worked as a behind-the-scenes (BTS) photographer for many international projects.
Let’s talk about your exhibition and the book? How did you get the idea for them?
I have been travelling to Mustang since the age of four. I don’t know why, but the beauty and the charm of Mustang have always had a hold on me.
While growing up, I always had this dream of capturing the majestic landscapes of the Mustang through my lens. But knowing the harsh weather conditions of Mustang, I was well aware that doing a photoshoot there won’t be easy at all.
However, in 2019, when fashion designer Tej Maya Pun came up with an idea of a fashion photoshoot in Mustang and approached me for the project, I was thrilled. In November that year, we completed the project and came back with stunning photos.
After coming back to Kathmandu, I was struck with the idea of publishing a fashion photo book featuring the photos from the shoot. I found this particularly important because there’s hardly any documentation of works related to fashion photography, and most of the photos taken by Nepali fashion photographers are limited to social media. As a fashion photographer who has been working for a while, I wanted to change this. I wanted to show the limitless possibilities of fashion photography and show the world what Nepal can offer as a photography destination.
Thus, to attain this goal, I decided to document all of the pictures I took during our shoot in Mustang and publish them in a book.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we had to push the book’s launch date a few times, and when we finally did fix the launch date, I thought it would be great if we could simultaneously do an exhibition showcasing a few pictures from the book. Since works of fashion photographers are rarely exhibited in an exhibition, I was confident my exhibition would inspire other fashion photographers as well.
So, in summary, both the book and the exhibition were an outcome of a vision I saw of wanting to push the boundaries of fashion photography in Nepal.
Given Mustang’s remoteness and harsh climate, it mustn’t have been easy conducting a professional photoshoot there.
Because of Mustang’s high altitude, unpredictable weather, and cold, shooting there wasn't easy. It required our production team to be well prepared for any challenges the region could throw at us. We had our own mobile toilets, a medical team to keep track of the team members’ physical health, portable changing rooms, oxygen cylinders, and access to hygienic and warm food for the crew. During the shoot, a model and a crew member suffered from altitude sickness, and we had to move them to lower altitudes.
We had a great time throughout the shoot despite all the challenges, and we made some great memories.
You have mentioned that your book must be read by aspiring fashion designers, fashion photographers, models, travellers, adventure enthusiasts, travel and landscape photographers. In what ways do you think your book will help them?
I think this book will make people from the fashion industry realise how their works can be presented in different ways and how they don’t have to limit their works to just a few mediums. So, I think in this way, those who work in the fashion industry can benefit from my book.
Similarly, this book can help photographers explore and find creative ways of using Nepal’s scenic backdrops in their works. In my book, I haven’t just captured the breathtaking landscapes of Mustang. Along with the landscape, every picture has a character (model), and a particular story is being depicted. I believe this juxtaposition can inspire many photographers to merge different genres of photography and help them find new ways of expression.
What made you set up Location Nepal? You have worked as a line producer for many international film projects. Shed some light on what your role entails.
The reason why we set up Location Nepal was to bring as many international filmmakers who plan to shoot their films in Nepal. And over the years, we have succeeded in bringing many big-budget international movies to shoot in Nepal.
A line producer is someone who is responsible for looking after everything related to the film's production. From managing vanity vans, mobile toilets, being in charge of shooting equipment to arranging makeup rooms, the role of a line producer is to make sure that the crew's work goes smoothly without any hindrance.
As someone who has travelled across the world, what do you think about Nepal's scope as a photography and filmmaking destination?
As a country, Nepal is gifted with beautiful natural landscapes, and the country has the potential to serve as an excellent destination for photography and filmmaking. Nepal’s diverse topography also means that our country shares geographical similarities with a wide range of countries from India, Afghanistan, Tibet to South Africa, and thus Nepal can be an alternative to these destinations for photography and filming. By providing an array of services to filmmakers and photographers, I think the country can benefit a lot. With the right marketing, we can grab the attention of international filmmakers and photographers.
What advice or suggestions would you like to give to aspiring photographers?
Photographers should be risk-takers. They should be brave enough to put themselves in situations that challenge them. It’s definitely not an easy profession as failure hits you often.
Personally, I have experienced failure many times in the course of my photography career. But I think with every failure, you learn and explore new things. So, I would advise aspiring photographers never to stop trying. A photographer should never stop moving forward because it’s how one achieves success in life.