Kevin Bubriski may live in Vermont but his heart is in Nepal.
Bubriski first visited Nepal in 1975 as a 20-year-old Peace Corps volunteer. He worked on a project to bring drinking water to villages. He came with a curiosity about the place and a camera in hand. And it was the camera that has shaped his destiny.
He began taking photos of the people he met and the sights he saw. And he has never stopped.
Over 40 years, Bubriski has visited Nepal many times and made many close friends. So when he awoke to a text message and a “flurry of emails” about the earthquake on Saturday, he immediately took to Facebook. Much to his relief, he saw messages from friends in Kathmandu indicating they were safe. But there is an eerie silence from those in more remote regions, the villages where there is at best limited electricity. Those are the people he is thinking of now.
“They don’t have a voice,” says Bubriski, who teaches photography at Green Mountain College. “And they are far away. And they don’t have access to technology, and they might not even have paths out of their villages to walk to safety.”
It was thoughts of these friends and villages that prompted him to upload a photograph to Instagram, the first image he shot in Nepal with his large format view camera outside Kathmandu.
The 1984 image was taken in the Barpak village in the Gorkha district, which is at the epicenter of Saturday’s quake. It is a photograph of Gurung girls sitting cross-legged — one of many images in his book Nepal: 1975-2011 published last fall. The photos start with 35 millimeter Leica M3 black-and-whites and end with digital photographs from a few years ago of young Nepalis set against colorful billboards and shops.
Bubriski began to cover Nepal in earnest in the 1980s. Inspired by the in-depth portraiture of August Sander’s People of the Twentieth Century, as well as Edward Curtis’ images of Native Americans and Walker Evans’ Depression-era photographs, he decided to cover as much of Nepal as possible. Since he had no familial obligations at home, he says, “I really had that freedom to spend time and walk through the mountains for months at a time. I used to say to people, the only deadline is the expiration on the film, which is several years.”
By the mid-1990s, Bubriski had slowed down the pace of his Nepal coverage. Married and a father, he wanted to spend time with his family. And other photographers tried to urge him to cover different parts of the world so his portfolio would have variety.
But in the end, Nepal pulled him back. In 2005 he returned for the first time in eight years, and he has been taking short trips back ever since. Rather than focus on just one theme — traditional life, say, or the changing face of Nepal — he has aimed to “document what is, what presents itself.”
Today he is worried about the remote villages, the rural areas, the landslides triggered by the quake. He worries about monsoon season, which is in June. But he hopes to return and continue creating images of Nepal. Until then, he stays in touch with his Nepali friends on Facebook. He was especially glad to learn that his local photography assistant, Norgay Sherpa, who worked with him on that large-format photograph of the Gurung girls from 1984, is safe: “I just heard from his wife that he flew from Istanbul to Kathmandu yesterday to participate in the recovery.”
But he remains deeply concerned about the toll on Nepal’s villages.
“The loss,” he says, “is far beyond belief or comprehension.”