CO-OP Insights: Nepal Picture Library

by Unseen August 25 2017

At Unseen Amsterdam 2017, we are excited to be presenting a brand-new programme element, Unseen CO-OP will bring together 13 exciting artist collectives from around the world who will present projects especially made for the space. Each week, we talk to each of the collectives to get to know who they are, what they do, and how they work.

In this week’s CO-OP Insights, we are delighted to introduce the work of Nepal Picture Library, a digital photo archive run by photo.circle, a photography platform founded in Nepal in 2007. Since it was set up in 2010, the Nepal Picture Library has strived to document an inclusive history of the Nepali people by encouraging individuals and families to contribute their photographs and stories to the archive. Since its inception, the archive has collected over 50,000 photographs from different parts of Nepal, generating knowledge and raising questions about how to explore issues of memory, identity, and history through imagery.

What is the main reason you formed the collective?
The Nepal Picture Library was formed in 2011 by a group of photographers from photo.circle. We realised that huge amounts of negatives, glass plates and photographs were scattered in personal archives around Nepal and most of this material was at risk. All this material is of historic value and needed to be archived professionally so that it could be made available to the public, as well as to researchers, educators, artists and others.

Since we were not archivists, we had to train ourselves. We managed to acquire some hardware with support from the Danish Centre for Culture and Development and the Prince Claus Fund. Since then, we have been scanning material from personal, as well as institutional collections. With the library growing steadily, patterns have started to emerge. With proper metadata entry, we have been able to extract theme based collections, such as weddings, life on main squares, celebrations during public holidays, as well as more critical subjects, such as the cast system and daily life during the armed conflict.

Most recently, NPL has begun to develop arts, history and social studies curricular material. We have also started to work with teachers and educators to introduce students to concepts of visual literacy, personal and political history and social studies through archival photographs. Students are encouraged to go through family archives and talk to their elders about their own personal histories.

NPL is also accessible to scholars from around the world as a rich visual database for research. NPL engages with different types of audiences through public projections, exhibitions and publications and participates in regional and international events.

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What sets you apart from other collectives?
Initially, we tried to research how collectives work, but soon realised that we need to figure out a 'model' for ourselves. photo.circle is a group of individuals who share a passion for visual stories and are interested to work with and through visuals in different ways. photo.circle runs Nepal Picture Library because as young photographers we find archival photography fascinating and important. We run photo workshops and work with Kathmandu University to develop curriculums and teach a range of photo workshops and courses. In this respect, we play the role of a photography school since there are no formal photography education programmes in Nepal. We run a festival because we are interested in having control over what kind of visual material is made available to the public and in what way. The festival's primary audience is Nepalese locals, although it also strives to engage with practitioners in the international community. photo.circle also functions as an agency and collective where we take on commercial assignments. We began publishing because we could not find publishers who were interested to publish non-commercial visual material. So, we are a really mixed-model and we are curious to meet other collectives at Unseen to see how other collectives work!

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Could you give us an insight into what you have in store for Unseen CO-OP 2017?
We will be showcasing material from a variety of studio collections from across Nepal. We will also showcase the works of Bikash Shrestha, a contemporary artist which has been engaging with our collections this past year. We are excited about this collaboration because we want to encourage more contemporary artists to engage with the archive and bring historical material to the present context. We will also be installing a fun interactive element where visitors at Unseen CO-Op will get to engage with Nepali history directly!

See all of the Unseen CO-OP collectives here