Nature is his frameHow Gorakh Bista became one of Nepal’s leading landscape photographers.
Gorakh Bista and his photographs may not be familiar to many. But you may have come across his photo features, in newspapers and magazines, and on the walls of places like the Sheetal Niwas, the official residence of the President of Nepal.
For a country known in the world for its stunning landscapes, Nepal has only a handful of landscape photographers. Bista, who has been at it for over 15 years, is one of them. In 2018, President Bidya Devi Bhandari honoured him with the ‘Jana Sewa Shree’, one of Nepal’s highest civilian awards.
“I consider myself lucky to have been born in a place where there is so much diversity and variation in terms of geography, landscape and colour,” says the 39-year-old.
Nepal is, without a doubt, a scenically gifted country, but not all photographs can do justice to its beauty the way Bista’s work manages to. The shots he captures are an outcome of hard labour, patience and persistence.
Although Bista gives more credit to nature and luck than himself, his work speaks otherwise.
“Since landscape photography depends primarily on natural elements, you cannot be sure when you will get the shot you imagined,” Bista says. “Sometimes it takes days, sometimes a week, and sometimes even a whole different season. You wait patiently to capture the right moment in the right light and from the right place.”
When Bista visits a location, he first tries to understand the place, its culture and tradition. He brainstorms the shot he wants before starting his process. Before falling asleep, for instance, he plays around with the idea of the kind of shots he wants from a certain place. This ritualistic brainstorming helps him with the framing, he says. And he waits patiently for the shot.
In a world where people are rushing and hustling every day, waiting for hours and hours at the same spot to get the perfect shot might feel like a drag to many. For Bista, it feels like meditation, he says.
The patience he has to get the shot of his imagination isn’t something he was born with. It is what he learnt from nature and life.
Back in 2006, when he was pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in photojournalism, naturally he envisioned himself doing photojournalism or studio photography. The only jobs he knew were there for photographers. But things changed when he had the opportunity to visit Mt. Kailash, the 6,714m peak in Tibet, the same year.
It was the beginning of what Bista would be doing for the rest of his life.
He had with him a Konka camera that cost Rs500 and he was mesmerised by what he saw. There has been no turning back for him since then. After that trip, he travelled to many places practising landscape and travel photography, at times at his own expense, and at other times, collaborating with travel and tour companies, convincing them that he would give them his pictures.
“People often compare our photographs and go on about their experiences. But one thing I can vouch for is the hardship I faced during those years,” he says. “I don’t think many have gone through those experiences.”
Between 2007 and 2010, Bista even detached himself from his own family. For an average, middle-class family like his, the idea of making a living by clicking pictures was beyond their understanding, Bista says. It still is.
Dodging everyone who questioned his decision to pursue photography, Bista solely focused on his passion and honing his craft.
“I never pursued this field in the hope of earning money as such,” he says. “It just happened that way.”
Bista has evolved over the years and now he treats landscape photography as a fine art photography. Adobe, the US-based computer software company that has become the industry standard for digital art as a whole, defines fine art photography as a way of capturing artists and their vision in a digital or physical print.
In Bista’s case, it is usually the physical prints that are 8 feet long horizontally. He sells only limited editions of his photographs, making them exclusive and providing a letter of authenticity. But he started doing this only recently.
Bista says that when he started out, he used to experiment a lot with his camera gear and tried to capture as much of the landscape as he could through wide-angle shots. “With time, I started understanding that beauty actually lies in the details and the layers I could capture,” he says. “That is why I started to focus more on understanding the place and began presenting it in an intimate way from unique locations.”
Going to places and finding unique, far-flung locations to click pictures demands that photographers like Bista be physically fit at all times.
Bista was born and raised in Humla, a remote district in Karnali Province. Growing up with nature there helped him a great deal to cope with nature from a young age, he says. That also helped him stay physically fit. But he worries that he won’t be able to do the same when he turns 60, say, or when his body begins to wear.
Keeping his personal worries aside, he urges the upcoming generation to pursue arts and photography without the fear of sustainability.
“With the advent of concepts like the NFTs, where creation has become the game changer, there’s an immense opportunity for the younger generation in this field,” he says.