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A Blog About Culture

Recognition, Situation, Identity, Reality

 

I already wrote a ton about cultural representation on a fairly recent (and by “fairly recent” I mean “last year”) post about fashion photography in Nepal, so you probably won’t be too surprised that I have an opinion about the faces chosen to represent Nepal in this video by photographer Jeremy Snell.

I don’t know too much about his end goal for this project, but this is what he said in the description: “The beauty of the Nepali people shown through an array of video portraits. These type of portraits involve a certain amount of trust between those being filmed and the filmmaker. Such portraits bring an intimate and human perspective towards complete strangers.

So, yeah, he did portray that sense of trust. It was a nice feeling, realizing that these people were standing and waiting for their pictures to be taken. They took time out of their days to stand there and try to look normal. The only issue that I have is that most of the portraits show the “exotic” Nepal, the people of a spiritual, simple past, or whatever it is that tourists think of when they think about Nepal.

Yes, there are ascetic yogis and women in rice paddies and monks in maroon. Yes, there are smiling children running around without pants and there are elderly homeless men wearing the traditional topi hat. But this project included maybe only three portraits of “modern” people in Nepal, and you can only really tell that much because they are wearing nondescript clothing. Where are the youths going to school? Where are the businessmen riding motorcycles to the office? Where are the brides buying makeup for their big days? Where are the hipsters with the cigarettes and skinny jeans? Where are those faces of Nepal?

But this is not what I wanted this post to be about.

The majority of the portraits in Snell’s video are of children — toddlers, specifically — and elderly. There are some adults, of course, but I felt that these two categories made up the most of the photos.

What struck me was the universality of the portraits of children versus the culturally-specific shots of the elderly.

What about those portraits of the elderly were so saliently Nepali? What screamed Nepal to me? I think that they displayed several cultural markers that expressed a traditional Nepal (perhaps also what made them so appealing to the photographer). First of all, most of them wore traditional and maybe even ethnic-specific clothing and jewelry. Then, some of them also engaged in poses, like the namaste gesture, that are learned expressions of identity (whether consciously or not).

The children don’t have those. Many of the kids in the portraits here are wearing clothing from all over the place, Western in style as well as traditional Nepali. They are also just doing whatever they feel like doing, which is pretty true of children all over the world. 🙂

So maybe the point of this blog post is to make a case for culture as a learned construct. Over time, does it become so ingrained that it imbues the very essence of who we are? Yeah, I think, but I also think that those markers don’t necessarily define who we are. They express a part of a whole. They’re paintings, not the image. They’re the markers, not the idea.

I have one more thought about “Faces of Nepal.” I love the first few shots of the video. The first few show perspectives from behind the subject of the shot, so it is like the viewer is in the same vantage point as the subject, experiencing the same world at the same time. I would love to see more of that.

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