Photo feature

This photographer is capturing the magic of Bhutan in black and white

Serena Chopra’s work gives glimpses of the change in the Himalayan kingdom in recent years.

Rolling hills, grey grasslands, people dressed in black and white – photographer Serena Chopra’s Bhutan is without greens and reds and blues. Devoid of colours they might be, but the photographs capture the magic and vibrancy of the land-locked Himalayan country.

It was on a vacation with friends that Chopra first visited Bhutan in 2002. "I had no plans or goals," said Chopra. "The journey just evolved organically and I kept going back. I did not question the process. I just knew that it was a valuable journey that I must make."

Over the next few years, her Hasselblad camera by her side and with the help of local Bhutanese porters, she travelled the valleys of this Himalayan kingdom and lived in the homes of many Bhutanese people, gaining an intimate experience of their way of life and the beliefs that governed them.

Her photographic works from these trips will be on display at an exhibition titled Bhutan Echoes at Kolkata’s Harrington Street Arts Centre.

A farewell dance in Sakteng village, Bhutan. Image by Serena Chopra. Courtesy Tasveer.
A farewell dance in Sakteng village, Bhutan. Image by Serena Chopra. Courtesy Tasveer.
Wangdi in Merak village. Image by Serena Chopra. Courtesy Tasveer.
Wangdi in Merak village. Image by Serena Chopra. Courtesy Tasveer.
Shop assistant Buddhiman Singer at Yeshey Meat Shop in Thimphu, Bhutan. Image by Serena Chopra. Courtesy Tasveer.
Shop assistant Buddhiman Singer at Yeshey Meat Shop in Thimphu, Bhutan. Image by Serena Chopra. Courtesy Tasveer.

“It was a personal choice to shoot in black and white,” said Chopra. “I feel I can express the essence of my subject when it’s stripped of the way I am accustomed to seeing things, be it people or landscapes. Perhaps when we take away the colour we experience a shift in our conditioned perception and we touch on the same subject in a whole new dimension.”

Whether it is a farewell dance in progress in the village of Sakteng, or the queen of Bhutan Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck herself in her Thimpu palace, Chopra brings out something deep and intimate in each picture. The contemplative gazes of her subject penetrate far into a viewer's consciousness even as they stand frozen in time within their frame. According to Chopra, as she got to know her subjects better, she began to photograph them with a vision that came from a more subtle understanding of their truth.

Her Majesty The Queen of Bhutan, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, at home in her palace in Thimphu. Image by Serena Chopra. Courtesy Tasveer.
Her Majesty The Queen of Bhutan, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, at home in her palace in Thimphu. Image by Serena Chopra. Courtesy Tasveer.
Nima Chozom in Merak village, Bhutan. Image by Serena Chopra. Courtesy Tasveer.
Nima Chozom in Merak village, Bhutan. Image by Serena Chopra. Courtesy Tasveer.

Chopra has been a witness to the change Bhutan has undergone since her first visit and speaks of a time when Bhutan was unexplored and untouched by globalisation. Bhutan Echoes captures a country in transition – one that has remained rooted in its faith, identity and culture, even while opening its doors to economic and technological advancement. Chopra's photographs are a portrait of a community attempting to embrace a more holistic idea of modernity that is inclusive of their heritage. She captures life in the streets of cities and villages of Bhutan, whether it is the bustling capital of Thimpu or the peaceful life of the countryside such as Merak and Loto Kuchu.

"The milestones of progress over the last 15 years seem to spell change that has not always been welcome," she said. "The religious tenets and philosophy of Buddhism will hopefully keep the fourth king's motto of Gross National Happiness (and not Gross National Product) alive and prevent rampant deterioration of this beautiful country's environment."

 A view of Thimphu. Image by Serena Chopra. Courtesy Tasveer.
A view of Thimphu. Image by Serena Chopra. Courtesy Tasveer.
Doi Tseri, a Lhop tribesman in Loto Kuchu, Bhutan. Image by Serena Chopra. Courtesy Tasveer.
Doi Tseri, a Lhop tribesman in Loto Kuchu, Bhutan. Image by Serena Chopra. Courtesy Tasveer.

Bhutan Echoes by Serena Chopra will be on display from September 26 to October 7 at The Harrington Street Arts Centre, Kolkata.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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