Chris L Jones
Biography 5 Nepal

Biography 5 Nepal

Transformation was a significant milestone on my photographic journey and definitely worth all the months of hard work. It wasn't understood by many so I had failed in that regard, but my soul was singing. Some of the images still hold a special place in my heart and that's why they remain in the Sahaja Collection.

The pressing question was what to do next. The creative process I had experienced spawned a wealth of new ideas, and my growing interest in eastern philosophy meant that it was a natural for me to consider going to India, the home of world spirituality.

I had been on an exciting 30 day shoot for Bloch Dancewear at that time that meant I could plan an extended trip to the subcontinent. It was another pivotal decision that was to shape the course of my life for the next 20 years and more. I wanted to continue the work I had started with Transformation, namely to bring awareness of some little understood aspects of transcendent spirituality through the narrative power of photography. 

Ambitiously lugging my Sinar 5x4 and Nikon cameras, polaroid, sheet film and dark slides, a light tight changing bag, tripod and lots of rolls of Fuji Velvia, I boarded the plane to Kathmandu. On arrival I got a massive culture shock because back then Nepal was hardly more than medieval, but that made it all the more intriguing. It was the winter of 1992 so I also had to be prepared for the cold as I had planned to visit some Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Namche Bazaar and beyond that meant a flight to the terrifying landing strip at Lukla.

I was spared that experience because some bad weather moved in and all flights had been cancelled indefinitely. Instead I explored some historic towns like Patan and Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu valley. Despite its poverty, Nepal has a very rich cultural tapestry that has cleverly combined Hinduism and Buddhism by making the Buddha an incarnation of the god Vishnu. As such, its temples and palaces have extraordinary and sometimes confusing details that are nonetheless very photogenic. 

I was very focused on creating new work and soon employed a young Nepali guide (who spoke 7 languages) to assist in liaising with the locals. That proved very wise as crowd control became a big part of any meaningful attempts at large format photography. As soon as I put the camera up, crowds of curious kids gathered round and simply just stared...and stared. In fact we used to joke about the 2 minute rule...if you didn't get your shot within that time, you were't going to get it.

In the end I had to let go of most of my higher ambitions and let the flow of events just unfold. Instead of figures placed in temple like environments I settled for some portraits. On reflection those had their own mystical power, so I wasn't too disappointed, but I quickly left the 5x4 idea behind and took to the streets and landscapes with my more manageable Nikon.

The Kathmandu Guest House was the iconic place for travellers to stay and it offered a bit more than dal bhat, the staple Nepali lentil meal. I had a profound awakening experience there that I won't go into, but again I had the feeling that Yogananda, even Babaji (the mysterious guru of self realisation) were present, after all I was in the Himalayan kingdom that has a tradition of enlightened babas and mystical experiences.  

I took many photos that I still love, but it was time to fly on to Delhi and my even more memorable first trip to India.

Image: Rent a crowd, Patan, Nepal, 1992. Sinar 5x4, Schneider 90mm, Kodak TMax100. 


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