Learning from The Nepal Picture Library
Our history is usually written. The Nepal Picture Library illustrates another way, open to us since the dawn of the photographic age: the visual story. The visual story is becoming ever more interesting as ever more people document their lives and their ideas though photography. Far from an elitist art form, photography has grown to be the dominant mode of expression worldwide. It has not always been that way. Photography used to be expensive to produce, so it resided among the few who had access to the resources and equipment. But today access is becoming universal, as is the means of distribution. Not only can we tell our story to anyone who cares to see it, but we can begin to look into our past and examine our history from multiple points of view.
Enter the Nepal Picture Library. Nepal is going through social and political upheaval as it transitions from a monarchy to a democracy. This has opened up its history to re-examination and, within the limits of photography’s presence historically, enabled a new history to emerge: a people’s history. Or at least a history of many perspectives.
When media is controlled by powerful elites it tells the stories they wish to tell. The “Downton Abbey” effect in the UK or the “Dallas” effect in the USA. But in a social media world things change: the celebrity remains superficial rather than a deep reflection of current society or authentic life. Authenticity becomes the mode of true emotional connection. The opportunity to represent the previously hidden story is a new way of rewriting history into the present. The Nepal Picture Library does exactly that. By collecting and digitizing the visual history of the Nepalese people it invites us to rethink our relationship with the concept of an aristocracy or the romantic view of Nepal as a Shangri-La
If they can do this in Nepal, we can do it anywhere.
Leonard Shlain wrote, in, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess” that the image was once again becoming a dominant form of storytelling. Who cannot be aware of the blue planet seen from space for the first time? Who cannot be aware of the consciousness it raises and who cannot feel the change as the world connects in a sharing economy of images and ideas, many very uncomfortable. The Nepal Picture Library shows us another use, a way of retelling history so that it matches a popular reality…maybe. No matter what you think of the retelling, the fact that history is being retold, using technology, as a nation democratizes is pretty interesting.
A world of visual storytelling is a different world than the one in which Ted Sorensen became a speechwriter or Theodore Levitt could imagine homogenous and “simple” global brands. It is a world of complexity, competing narratives and, above all, the voices of ordinary people. The mass market–for ideas, politics and brands–is effectively over, as people from Nepal to New York take the narrative of their existence into their own hands.
The big question is this: if our history can be reimagined as easily as an iPhone App is opened, how do we create trust and an imagined future worth investing in? It is as important to prospective leaders of nations as it is to brand managers and CEOs.
Check out theThe Nepal Picture Library.
My thanks to Chobi Mela for bringing them to Dhaka and for making this correspondent think a little more deeply.