Recording Resilience - Nepal Earthquake, the Lost Architectural Heritage and the Rebuilding process

Heritage Architecture Dated:  Jan. 13, 2016
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Recording Resilience – Nepal Earthquake

In conversation with photographer Santhosh Loganaathan.

Santhosh Loganaathan, an architectural photographer, talks about his project- to photograph Kathamandu post the earthquake. His intention is to bring to focus the architectural value of Nepal and the positivity of the process of rebuilding.

Nepal faced one of its worst natural disasters on 25th April 2015, when it was struck by an earthquake with magnitude of 7.8. Many villages destroyed, more than 9000 killed, 23000 injured and thousands of people Were left homeless. Heritage buildings centuries old at UNESCO World Heritage sites collapsed. The relief efforts that focused on getting food and medical help to survivors was covered by the mainstream media.

The Silence of Resilience, however, is a photography exhibition that focuses on the lost architectural heritage and the process of rebuilding it.

Nepal

What was the genesis of this project?

After following the news of Nepal and the earthquake’s impact, I noticed that the humanitarian and the social crisis were being covered well by the mainstream media. But the architectural heritage of Kathmandu Valley was receiving less attention in comparison. Given the cultural value of these heritage buildings, and the fact that they were all declared world-heritage sites, I decided to document the impact of the earthquake on the heritage specifically.

What was the reaction when you first got there?

I landed in Kathmandu prepared for the worst. To my surprise, I was welcomed by an active and bustling city. In fact, I even started to wonder whether this place was hit by earthquakes at all. Almost all shops were open. People were full of smiles and going on about their daily activities. It took me a while to realize that this city is fighting back, despite being hit. The will of the people to bounce back blew my mind.

Nepal Post-Earthquake

What was the focus of your project?

The mainstream media and many photographers have done a good job of documenting the disaster. But what  they’ve missed out on is the speed at which things are getting back to how it was before. This important aspect has been neglected by the press, which in turn has had a huge negative impact on its tourism, an otherwise thriving economic sector for Nepal. So through exhibition I intended to create an awareness of how things were moving forward and that its perfectly okay to travel back there now.

What did you intend when you said documenting the architectural recovery?

I took a set of photographs from existing archives of some famous heritage monuments before the earthquake and tried to capture its existing condition in the exact same frame. This will present a comparative extent of the damage occurred. I intend to take photographs from the same angle every four months, for the next 10 years. Through this exercise, I’ll be able to document the entire reconstruction in the form of a time-lapse.

Temple in Nepal

How did the exhibition come about and what was the response?

The response of the people overwhelmed me. One of those who visited happened to be a survivor of the quake  himself. He told me that he loved how I chose beauty over the ugly side of the disaster to showcase as my work. The rest of them seem to really like the before-after sequence that we put forth. This featured superimposed images of the buildings before and after the earthquake. We also invited a couple of people from an NGO called 'Choose Life', who were involved in the relief work there to share their experiences. The one who survived were also one among those who spoke the the gathering.

Where do you see this project going from here on?

This exhibition was, to me, a trial run, I just wanted to see what the response would be like. The plan was to do a bigger exhibition in Chennai if this one went successfully. But the response and appreciation I received made me realised that I shouldn’t limit it to just one city. So my team and I plan to take it to different cities, starting with Bangalore, then Erode, Coimbatore, Pondy and finally back to Chennai. After that we plan on taking this to Kathmandu itself. Moreover, I'll be doing a time lapse of the reconstruction and restoration of heritage structures for the next ten years which will also be made into a documentary. We have also been asked to make a presentation for the 'Pondicherry Heritage Week' by the board in March, 2016.

Nepal post-Earthquake Photo Exhibition

Who and where did you get the support to take on such an ambitious project?

When I first thought of this project, everyone I spoke to were skeptical about the practical risks involved and the funds needed to pull this through. But when I pitched it to the AgamSei team, they were more than willing to support me financially. Their support didn’t just stop with the money. They also helped in organizing the exhibition, marketing it, pitching the idea to potential sponsors. They helped take my mind of the logistics so that I could focus on seeing the project through. They’ve also been a huge support morally as well. To simply put it without AgamSei, this project would have definitely not been possible.

This Article is part of Agam Sei Volume: 01 Issue: 10.

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