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Photos of Gurez – The Washington Post

(Showkat Nanda)
(Showkat Nanda)

Sometimes photos are enough in and of themselves — standing apart from words, not needing them to lend or assist in meaning. Sometimes photos can be strung together in a purely emotive fashion — yes, like a piece of music, a silent film, visual poetry.

That is the case with these images from photographer Showkat Nanda. They are subtly evocative photos of a landscape that has seen rough times, politically, militarily, economically. I don’t think there is a real need for detailed captions — the images function as a kind of tone poem.

On the absence of captions, Nanda said in an email to me, “From my own perspective, these are general shots of houses that have perhaps a personal meaning to me as explained in the text. By not having specific captions for these images, and keeping them open-ended, I have tried not to restrict the audience to a particular narrative and let them freely think about them.”

Nanda’s photos of Kashmir’s Gurez Valley in the winter, when summer’s clamoring tourists are at a blessed distance, are not about specifics. They’re there as impressions, a feeling, a memory. They are there to be interpreted — for you and me to imbue with our own thoughts. It is helpful to know what was going through Nanda’s mind, too. And his words can serve as a guide for us as we take them in:

“When I was in class 3, our Urdu book began with a chapter titled ‘Baraf Bari,’ meaning snowfall. The only supporting visual accompanying the text was a hastily made sketch depicting a landscape, and a long line of wooden houses with a thin layer of snow on the roofs. Back then, winters were dark and cold, both literally and figuratively.

“Blazing guns, and an armed rebellion against Indian rule, had reached its peak.

“This February, I traveled for an assignment to Gurez, a remote, snowbound valley untouched by the onslaught of modernization. The region was sliced ​​from the Dard Shin homeland by a hostile Line of Control, the de facto border between India and Pakistan. Gurez falls on the Indian side. Even Franklin D. Roosevelt was fond of this place and trekked through its mountains and valleys before becoming president of the United States. The valley remains cut off from the rest of the world in winters for six months; the only pass connecting it with Kashmir receives 15 to 20 feet of snow and sends the region into an emotive isolation.

“On the sides of the assignment as I navigated through the valley, I photographed these landscapes and isolated hamlets that stand like reminders of another space and time. They appear like a 100-year-old Kashmir, quietly hanging between dream and reality. The falling snow and the haze lends the landscape a peaceful quietness.

“The images hit me on a personal level. At first glance, these images look like pencil sketches, astonishingly resembling the sketch in my Urdu book. After more than a decade of documenting pain and suffering, these ‘dreamlike’ images give a stark visual form to the memories that I have been carrying since my childhood. They transport me to the past and help me escape from the present.

“For people in the region, this haunting isolation pumps life into their souls. The metaphoric silence and absence of people in these photographs is an honest depiction of how winters look like here. I also find in these images a strange grace of the landscape that is at the verge of extinction. It is also a different way of looking at a place which otherwise is a ‘tourist’s heaven’ in summers but becomes so unforgiving in winters that no outsiders usually visit it.”

Nanda is a Kashmiri documentary photographer and educator. He graduated with a master’s in photojournalism from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Before that, he graduated with a master’s in mass communication and journalism from the University of Kashmir.

Nanda’s work has been awarded multiple times, including by the National Geographic Society and the Magnum Foundation. His work mostly focuses on the social and cultural ramifications of the conflict in Kashmir.

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