Film Foundry, a group of like-minded photographers has revived analogue photography and one of the founders, Jagdish Upadhya has set up his own dark room.
After nearly 15 years since the last analogue photography exhibition in Kathmandu, ‘Life In Analogue’, a collective photography exhibition was held at the Siddhartha Art Gallery back in August. Photos from over 40 different photographers with black and white images from the 1950s up until 2019 were on display. All pieces were collated by the Film Foudry’s Jagadish Upadhya and the team. Upadhya, an avid analogue photographer and printer created this exhibition as a way to bring about a revival of analogue photography.
Upadhya’s unwavering interest and passion for analogue surprisingly began in Paris where he had gone on a scholarship for pilot training in 1986. He lived in the artistic quarter in Paris, and he would compare his life to those of the artists. “Sitting in a cockpit for 7 hours was not appealing to me, they were always out and about in the evenings capturing daily life on the streets,” says Upadhya. Although he had flown enough hours and miles to have become a commercial pilot, an ‘intuition’ drew him away from flying; “I don’t know what it was, things just happened.” He delved into analogue, reading books of many famous photographers; one of his main inspirations as well as mentor being the famous French humanist photographer Robert Doisneau.
These days he also finds inspiration from an Indian photographer Raghu Rai as well as many young artists in the current scene. “During the early days when we first started, you would have to send your rolls of film to be printed professionally and then wait for weeks for them to return,” recalls Jagdish. He wanted to print his own photos, which led him to move after seven years in Paris to Seattle in the US, where he enrolled in an art school to learn just that. His return to Nepal was motivated partly by his parents being on their own as well as a need to be back in Nepal and a certain desire for permanence: “I have always been here and there, so I decided to settle back in Kathmandu five years ago,” informs Upadhya.
It has now been twenty-five years since he took up analogue photography and he has not changed his camera for the past fifteen years; “I have never changed anything – not even the batteries” – sturdy to say the least! Analogue “makes you think twice, it slows you down”, unlike the current generation of photographers where everyone is buying expensive cameras with the desire to take professional photos, and spend much of the time editing the photos to perfection. Upadhya adds, “I have not bought a camera recently, my digital camera is my phone!” With analogue there is a conscious effort to perfect the composition, lighting and timing, you have to “concentrate more because your resources are limited”. When asked what he photographs most, he answers almost instantaneously: “Water! It has an unexplainable quality, always different to photograph, I love photographing water, it calms you down, even when you’re angry and when you wash your hands, your focus is on the water.” Other than that, he also likes to experiment as shown by two of his photos which were showcased during the ‘Life in Analogue’ exhibitions and further showed his skill in the field.
Film Foundry was started as a way to help give analogue a basis in Nepal as it was missing from Kathmandu’s art scene. The darkroom is based in Jawalakhel where he runs workshops for any interested people, to educate them, as well as providing resources on not only on how to shoot in analogue but also how to print their own photos. It is a space for people with a similar interest to come together, to learn, “communicate, socialise” and create an “analogue community” which has been missing here. It is evident that analogue photography is gaining more attention and popularity, not only in Nepal, but worldwide. A Photo Walk which was held in early August saw its attendees increase by three times from the previous one. This surge of interest is partly motivated by nostalgia which is attached with analogue. There is a timeless quality and the depth of printed photos whereby the physicality involved in looking at them, moving closer to see smaller details – you are drawn in - which you do not get with digital photos.
The purpose of the ‘Life in Analogue’ exhibition has been to show the beauty of analogue from old photographers to some of his students, but it has also been to portray the “trauma of change” that Nepal has experienced physically, and in terms of society through the old prints. There is a disconnect felt by family members because of the rapid change, a common ground for communication and relations has been removed. Upadhya wants to offer a common ground whereby two or even three different generations can relate through pictures, the stories elders tell are no longer so unimaginable. When he talks of his childhood, there is a reminiscent tone; “simple life” whereby sometimes “simple things in life are the best things”.
There are many more photos to come. Jagdish wants to showcase individual photographer’s works, as he also wants to exhibit a Chitrakar family’s personal history, as personal history is also part of the history of Nepal. His future plan is to take this type of exhibition of the past of Nepal and to make it a public, larger scale exhibition whereby all generations from different societal groups of people walk by such as in Asan or Patan. It would create conversation but also trigger nostalgia among many people.
Film Foundry was established by like-minded photographers Jagdish Upadhya, Abhishek Shah, Biwas Suwal and Rupesh Man Singh. Their passion is for analogue photography which had for all purposes, died in Nepal. Jagdish has set up a dark room in one of the buildings at his residence and the group meets whenever they have time but not on a regular basis. As a group they have joint ventures as well as personal photographic projects and these days even young photographers are coming to learn from them.
What is interesting about Jagdish’s work is the fact that circumstances have compelled him to make his own chemicals to process both the film and paper. So after 25 years in photography he finds himself having to be resourceful, importing a bunch of chemicals which he then mixes to make what he used to buy ready-made in the market a decade ago. “You don’t get D76 anymore, so I have to make it myself; it’s not even available in India. You can only get them in the west. The good thing is that what I make is purer than factory made chemicals so I can develop seven films with the same chemical while one mix of the old D76 would be good for only two. My chemicals are fresh because I only mix what I need and they’re 95% pure,” says Jagdish. Surprisingly Ilford, Kodak and Fuji are still making films and that too in all ISOs. Even new companies have sprung up as the enthusiasm for analogue is picking up. “A company named ADOX bought the old Ilford factory and are making films. Kodak is still producing slide and color films while Fuji still makes those wonderful Velvia slide films,” informs Upadhya. He plans to start slide processing too and if he does perhaps many of the old photographers will want to shoot slides once again, if they’ve hung on to their cameras. He has also started processing color film and making color prints as well. For all this, he will have to mix his own chemicals. “C41 is also no longer available in the market, says Jagdish.
The number of people coming to his studio is growing steadily. “Most people come here for art photography. There is a steady flow of passionate photographers including expats and other foreigners. I once taught photography at Rato Bangla for a year and set up a dark room there. I hope to encourage schools to include photography in their curriculum,“ he says. He also plans to have an annual photo exhibition to encourage analogue photography.