Sailendra Kharel interview
Sailendra Kharel, 26, is one of Nepal's leading young photojournalists
Interview by Richard Bull
How did you start in photography?
In 2004 Maoists killed the metropolitan police chief close to my house in Birganj, Gopal Giri. There was a lot of rioting after this and I knew I had to cover the story. I went to my uncle’s home and borrowed a Yashica compact, bought 6 or 7 films and took a lot of pictures. Later a reporter from the Annapurna post / Himalayan Times asked for my images. I instantly said yes.
Three of my shots appeared on the front page. I didn’t have any connections with the publishing houses in Kathmandu, so I was very happy and immediately realised the power of photojournalism. All the people in the country could see my work. This is how I got into photojournalism.
Later I went to Kathmandu, took some short courses and started taking pictures with a Nikon FM2. I did an internship with Kantipur, Nepal’s biggest media group, for about 9 months.
At the end of this period I had intended to do some work on my hometown, but the editor suggested I cover the conflict in Nepalganj for which they would pay me. Without support it would have been very difficult to work. They didn’t pay a lot, around US$30 a month. I spent the next year and a half covering the conflict.
It was hard for me as I didn’t know a lot about photojournalism or photography. It was just experimenting, but I travelled as much as possible. After the Maoists signed the peace agreement, I returned to Kathmandu and since then have been working as a photojournalist for the Kathmandu Post.
It gives me satisfaction working for the people. I see so much of what is going on in the country and the people who are suffering, which helps me develop as a human being.
Was there anything that made your job particularly difficult?
During this time there was a lot of censorship and whenever I got a picture about the conflict, it was very hard for me to publish. But even when I couldn't publish my images I kept on working, I knew later on the pictures would be proof, a record of the war.
It was also difficult because I was shooting in film. The lab would be closed or it would just take too long and deadlines would pass. Then the paper gave me a small Canon digital compact to use. It wasn’t very professional, but at least it was possible to submit my images.
Later on I bought my own camera, a Canon 350D, which I am still using today. I look at this as a challenge. It’s hard to work with few resources, but it always pushes me to just focus on my work. It gives me control when I have just simple equipment. I can’t be fast, so it focuses me on what’s actually needed. If you work with a simple camera, it helps you to learn a lot of things.
Now though I need to upgrade. The world is moving very fast. In my country this isn’t so much of a problem, if you bring any kind of picture, they’ll say this is good and run it. But outside Nepal, there is a lot of competition and the image quality needs to be better.
I am looking perhaps at a 5D with perhaps a fixed 35mm, f1.2 lens or something like that. That would be enough for me. Still it is taking the right picture at the right moment that counts the most, not the technical aspect.
What projects are you working on now?
Documentary. In 2007, I attended Workshopasia run by Jack Picano, Steve Coleman and Stephen Dupont. I learnt a lot from this. Prior to attending I always focused always on the single image. Now I try to tell a story with a series of pictures.
Right now I am still working on a project I began in 2006 about Maoism: how the civil war started in Nepal; how it entered mainstream politics; how the king was thrown out; how the country was declared a republic nation after removing the 249-year-old royal dynasty. The project is called ‘Long Rugged Road to Republic’.
It’s an inside look at the people and real life, not just political events.
How is it being received?
This kind of work is never published in the newspapers here. They always want shots of a leader’s face or a big crowd of people. I believe we are backwards here visually.
At first every time I filed a story, I would give them a choice: what I knew they liked and what I liked – what I thought was a strong image. And they never published what I liked. I don’t do that anymore.
Now, I decide. After all I was there. I was the witness. If they want to publish it, they can. If they don’t, I don’t care. I have to do it like this because it is my work.
This has paid off. My work featured in the Angkor photo festival in Cambodia last year and Chobi Mela IV in Dhaka, Bangladesh this year.
How do you display your work or get it to a larger audience?
I work for one of the leading publications in Nepal. We have an English daily, a Nepali daily, a magazine and online, so generally most of my work is there. Otherwise, I publish pictures to my blog site.
I also send images to various newspapers and magazines abroad but rarely get anything back from them.
Is there a living to be made from photography in Nepal?
It's definitely hard, I get paid around US$130 a month here, but this is my passion and interest and my sole focus right now is to keep telling the story rather than make money.
I was sending my pictures to agencies, but I stopped as I didn’t know enough about it. I realised I had a lot still to learn and should be focusing more on hard news stories than single images. However I will try again as this is the only option if you want to work internationally and reach a mass audience.
What is the state of photojournalism in Nepal?
It’s very backward. There is very little space for social news. It’s all political or commercial. If you get deep within an issue, it is very hard to get published in a newspaper.
It is perhaps better to compare with India, where the use of quality pictures is very high. The country is big and the market is there for it. In Nepal, it’s only in Kathmandu. If you go out of Kathmandu, there are no photographers working. The reporter does everything.
We have photo editors on a few magazines but really it is just an extra job title. Really the reporters are selecting photos as well as doing everything else.
While the world is running on multimedia, Nepal is not. No one in Nepal is established internationally in the field of journalism.
The market is also very small and everyone is dreaming about the working for the existing press, people are not thinking about how they can develop themselves and their work to a higher level. It’s very weak.
I wonder what I will do after 5 years in Nepal. I see the Internet as my learning medium, I talk to many photographers, I have been selected to attended free workshops in Angkor and Bangladesh – so it is possible to develop, but also very hard.
Do you see any difference between 'western' and 'asian' photojournalism?
Western photographers are very free and independent. I worked with Marcus Bleasdale from VII as a fixer in Rolpa covering the Maoist insurgency and a couple of other photographers. The way they work is totally different. They are totally focused on the story for their assignment – they get the assignment and the budget.
I’d like to work like them, but if I work like them, I’ll have to depend on the agencies, which is a lottery. I am not rich and it would be a problem for me to live a freelance lifestyle, even in Nepal.
It’s also all about the market. In the west the market is very big, in Nepal, its very small.
Western agencies don’t employ local journalists often. The Westerners are very strong, very sharp, we still haven’t got the eye. If we develop our visual power more, I think we’ll get a lot of the opportunities in the future that the westerners are getting now.
Have you seen the recent change in Law in the UK hampering photographers' rights? How do these compare with the limitations, if any, placed on Asian photojournalists?
When I cover an event, in a public place, if anyone comes and stops me, I never compromise, as it’s my right to shoot in a public place. I try first to convince him and when I do, then I shoot again. A policeman or someone might try to stop me, but I will not stop shooting because this in itself is news.
Sometimes you have to go undercover. You have to hide your identity, grow a beard and dress accordingly. If the conditions are violent, then you have to be clever so no one will try to stop you. I tell them I am freelance photographer but never mention the name of my publication.
What is the future of Asian photojournalism?
Photography is very good in Bangladesh. Shahidul Alam was the first Asian to sit as a World Press Photo jury member.
He established a news agency and picture agency called Partshala and it was the first south Asian photography institute. We don’t have anybody like that here, someone so dedicated. If we get that, photojournalism in Nepal will definitely change.
Since Alam’s work, things are very different in Bangladesh. Photographers are getting a lot of opportunity now internationally. Their work is very strong. There is even an international festival now.
What is your take on Western photojournalism awards such as World Press Photo?
If your work is good and story is strong, Western and Asian doesn’t matter. Shahidul Alam came here and told us in a small workshop how the jury select their images. It was a good experience as I had no idea about this. The way a Westerner sees an image and what an Asian sees can be quite different. For instance a traditional event with high importance – an Asian jury chair will see the significance of the event and judge it accordingly.
What is the most prestigious outlet for an Asian photographer?
Winning a prize is not everything. It is my dream to work internationally, to communicate how my country is going right now, to take my work to an international level. That would show respect for my subject, if I communicate their feelings to other people, and something happens for them, then that would be the real award for me.
But Chobi Mela V and Ankor photo festivals are big. They also give free workshops for about 30 photographers, which is a very great opportunity for Asian photographers. They even pay for the travel if the photographer is needy. Photographers from around the world attend. It also helps to network and exchange opinions about how they are working and that kind of thing can influence your working style.
Is there competition from digital cameras in the public?
Yes – everyone has a camera, even on their mobile phone, but if you work differently and with imagination, if you have strong composition, your work will stand out.
If you weren't a photojournalist? What would you be?
Everyone is a lawyer in my family, even my grandfather. My family wanted me to be a lawyer also, but I didn’t. I wanted to concentrate on media.
My family was not happy with my choice and were afraid for me when I was working in violent places. Once they even locked me in the house! But then I told them, “If I don’t go, no one will report it.” Now they can see I am doing well and pursuing my dream and they are happy for me.
Richard Bull's blog
Sailendra Kharel's blog
Back to Categories
- Average Article Rating 0 Stars
- You must be a registered user & logged in to rate this.
Login | Register