Kashmir – Beyond beauty and conflict
Very different from the clichéd photographs of the valley synonymous with both, conflict and beauty, ‘Kashmir’, his photo-book tells an underlying story of the people, the lives they lead and their land captured by Amit Mehra over a period of five years. In Goa currently, photographs of his collection on Kashmir are on display at MOG till September 29. He discusses his photographs and the Kashmir valley with NT BUZZ
Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ
“You can leave Kashmir, but Kashmir can never leave you once you visit the valley,” says photographer Amit Mehra who captured the life and land in Kashmir over three years. Initially mesmerised with nature and all the beauty Kashmir had to offer, it was through the course of time between 2006 and 2011, with twenty five, seven- to ten-day trips to the valley that the book he was working on took on a different meaning.
He captured a much deeper aspect than just pictures that make you emphatise with the people. Through these pictures he presents his own views of what he saw, experienced and understood of the valley while retaining the perspective of an outsider.
Excerpts from an interview
The Valley what I saw is not to do with the beauty or the conflict, but focuses on how the people or a land gets affected in a conflict zone. Basically, the photographs are a psychological study.
I started working on Kashmir in 2006. From then until 2011 I visited Kashmir 25 times. The project was extremely difficult as there is huge amount of mistrust between Kashmiris and Indians. Pictures of Kashmir we generally see are of stone pelting, riots, dead bodies, etc. It was very difficult to gain their trust and convince them that I was doing something different – show their pain, agony, alienation, circumstances they live in and what they go through. It took about two and half years to convince them what I was planning to do.
So the idea of what the final outcome would be developed gradually through the course of photography. I was very clear right from the onset of the project that I didn’t want to show the beauty or conflict in the Valley. It was a conscious decision as we have been so used to seeing clichéd pictures of Kashmir through various media. I wanted to understand what all happened to the people and their land because of conflict. I wanted to understand their psyche.
Any conflict affects people. It creates fear, suspicion and a lot of other problems. They do not live a normal life at all. It’s very depressing and sombre and in all of this, they have no outlet to vent or have a breather. There aren’t cafes, cinemas, etc like in other parts of the country. After 2013 few cafes have opened up, but for so many years the people have been deprived of minor things. After 5 p.m. during winters they are tucked up in their homes. Also, when people suffer, the land also gets affected. There is beauty, but it’s affected.
No, it wasn’t easy at all. I was always under suspicion. It was difficult to convince them (Kashmiris) about my intentions. People thought I was an army spy; the army thought the opposite. It was no less than crossfire all the times.
When you sit in your home in places like Delhi, Bombay, Goa, we see a very incomplete picture of Kashmir and form opinions. It is only when you go there, spend time and look around, talk to people and let them open up that you realise there’s lots of emotions and hurt deep down. Most people there say they have lost someone or the other, directly or indirectly, to conflict. It’s a badly affected place and people have so much of hurt. So when I lived there and listened to their stories, definitely there was a change. I wanted to understand how bad the situation was as they had been living like that for about 20 to 25 years. I don’t want to get into the politics of the Kashmir issue, but when such conflicts happen, the harsh reality is that the common man suffers and is at the receiving it.
These are not general pictures of Kashmir as I said, but stories of what I felt in the valley. I shot for more than five and a half years, but I chose to shoot more or less in winters, for I wanted to shoot in a gloomy atmosphere, in a certain kind of light. There are no direct pictures at all, all metaphoric photographs, where the meaning has to be interpreted and derived by the viewer.
There’s no doubt about Kashmir being such an incredible place. When you go there you can’t throw it out. You get addicted to the place irrespective of the reason you visit it for.
My projects are all long term. I have been working on a project on Sufism for the last nine years. The aim is here is to find out how Sufi came to India. The other project I have been working on is shooting my memoirs of Old Delhi which is where I was born.
(‘Kashmir’ by Amit Mehra will be on display at MOG till September 29.)