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History of photography and photojournalism in Nepal

The history of photography and photojournalism in Nepal is about two hundred years and eighty years respectively, the discipline didn’t encounter single research yet. Very few works are available in both of the fields. Most of the discussions appear as newspaper articles and chapters or paragraphs in books. The available articles and write-ups are listed in the references. There is no single document which presents the history of photojournalism and the present scenario in a systematic manner. This study has tried to presents an account on the evolution of photojournalism, its present status as well as career potential in Nepal. Since photography is the root of these issues go hand to hand while discussing photojournalism.

Shrestha (1986) discusses about the origin of photography in Nepal while presenting the history of Rana court in Nepal.  According to him, Jung Bahadur Rana probably brought camera for the first time in Nepal from his European tour in 1850. Onta (1998) on the other hand writes ‘the available evidence does not allow categorical amity that Jang Bahadur saw a camera while in Europe.’

Based on the available evidences J. P Losty (1992) mentions, British citizen Clarence Comyn Taylor was the first person to take photograph inside Nepal. Taylor took photographs during 1863-65. His photographs include the portraits of Janajatis, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan durbars, Jung Bahadur and his family photographs (p.323). Susan Heide (1997) suggests that Dambar Shumsher, son of Dhir Shumsher and the younger brother of then Prime Minister Bir Shumsher, was the first Nepali photographer (p.31). She writes that there is no convincing evidence about who taught Damber the art of photography and hints that Bourne and Shepherd the probably did. Damber Shumsher’s son Samar Shumsher and grandson Balkrishna Sama later continued photography as a family hobby. Sama (1997) includes some of the photographs taken by Damber Shumsher and Samar Shumsher in his autobiography Mero Kavitako Aaradhana. Under the patron of Damber Shumsher and Gahendra Shumsher, Purna Man Chitrakar got an opportunity to learn photography. Dirgha Man Chitrakar came under the guidance of PurnaMan.

During 1909 the then General Manager of Gorkhapatra, Bishnu Dhoj Joshi started a Grand Studio which was later shifted to New Road is considered as the oldest public studio in Nepal. It was popular at that time. Prime ministers, ministers, and distinguished personalities all visited there to have their photo taken. Summer Shumsher, father of Balkrishna Sama, Pashupati Lal Shrestha, Narayan Prassad and Laxmi Prassad were contemporary of Bishnu Dhoj. From the above discussion, it is evident that photography profession was started in Nepal in 1852. But it was not before 1870; Nepal witnessed publication of first news photo.

Before the establishment of printing press in Nepal in 1851  books and papers Janga Bahadur Rana is believed to have brought the first hand press ‘Giddhe Press’ in Nepal from his Britain visit in 1851 but there is no accurate evidence. Some years later another press brought was ‘Manoranjan Press.’ Kuber Ratna Bajracharya and Durukaji Bajracharya made the first hand press in Nepal in 1892. Gahendra Shumsher made a press which he handed to Naradev Pandey to support in publishing Gorkhapatra in 1901. In 1912 electric press was introduced in Nepal.

Sudhasagar is the first paper in published in Nepal in 1898. The monthly Sudhasagar was published in Nepali language.  Gorkhapatra was established in 1901 during the reign of Shree Tin Dev Shumsher Jang Bahadur Rana. Initially Gorkhapatra was weekly later in Shree Tin Juddha Shumsher’s reign it was published twice a week. Sharada monthly became the third paper published from Nepal in 1934.

Though photo publishing in books had already started in 1892, Gorkhapatra is the first paper to publish photo in 26 April 1927 Devkota (1967).  Devkota has not mentioned any names of the photographer or any description of the photograph. The photographer of 26 April photo is still not known. Sarada is the other paper that started publishing photographs. Wooden block was used to create photo impression on the new paper. These wooden blocks were made by artists in Nepal. In 1940 machine was brought from abroad to make photo blocks. Half tone photo block was made to print photos. In 1962 another advance machine was brought to photo blocks. This was kept in the Singh Durbar under government body department of information. The department used to provide all the required photos for Gorkhapatra.

On 26 April 1927 Gorkhapatra published a photo of a girl. “Aafna kapaska bagaichama Shree Chandra Kamdhenu charkha dwara dhago kati raheki barsa 12 ki Birgunj basne Surya Mati Shresthani” was a caption of the photograph. The black/white photo was published in third page, 3­4 columns under variety section “Shree Chandra Kamdhenu Charkha pracharka Kheti bibhag dwara prakashit kapas kehti ko sadharan suchana.”  Bhim Rana Jigyashu (1999) writes ‘Gorkhapatra first published the photo ‘charkha dwara dhago katiraheko’ in 1927,’ There is no doubt that Gorkhapatra published first photo but there is confusion regarding the first published photo. Titikshu (2009) claimed a portrait of Chandra Shumsher published in 1926 in the front page of Gorkhapatra with a title ‘Shree Tin Maharajko Janma Utsav’ the first photo.

Earlier than that Titikshu’s claimed photo of 1926, Gorkhapatra had already published the portraits of Chandra Shumsher twice on 7 and 14 July 1925 for his birthday with some text information (MPP archive). These photos were a part of advertisements but still they were first photos published in Gorkhapatra. Deepak Aryal discusses the importance of 26 April photo for three reasons: Surya Maya’s photo was the first general people photo. Before that Gorkhapatra published the photo of Royals and their activities. Secondly the picture contained caption along with information about cotton farming. Finally the photo was taken not only outside the palace but also outside the capital. But, Aryal (2010) suggests recognizing the Chandra Shumsher’s birthday photo to be the first photo in Nepali photo journalism. National Forum of Photojournalist (NFPJ) considers 26 April photo as the first news photo in Nepali photojournalism. The Forum also celebrates 26 April as photojournalism day. Min Ratna Bajracharya, President of NFPJ explained, ‘13 Baishak photo as the first news photo in Nepali photojournalism’ (2009, interview).

26 April photo is the first news photo published was historic with its four reasons: first, it was published with narrative as a pure news photo. Second, the photo was not a part of an advertisement. Third, it was the first photo of a general public published for the first time in first newspaper. And, finally the photo was taken in Birjung. Earlier than that all of the photos were limited whether in the palaces or within the capital. The other interesting fact is that no record has been found to identify 26 April photographer. Titikshu (2009) hints someone among the Muslims of Resham Kothi might have taken the photograph of Surya Maya. While there is ongoing debate about the first news photo in Nepali photojournalism, there is also great debate on the first photojournalist of Nepal. Most of photojournalists site Gopal Chitrakar as first photojournalist with identity and appointment letter from Gorkhapatra. Aryal (2010) presents Balkrishna Sama and Madan Mani Dixit as photojournalism practitioner before Gopal Chitrakar with evidence.




Rana (1998) states in his article, Gorkhapatra hired Deepak Dhakal of Motion Picture Corporation as a photographer before Gopal Chitrakar joined as a staff. Gorkhapatra officially employed Gopal Chitrakar and Bindu Raj Singh Suwal as first press photographers. Sarad (2004) also state Gopal Chitrakar and Bindu Raj Singh Suwal are the pioneer photojournalists in Nepal. They were appointed as press photographer in 1973 by Gorkhapatra. Gopal Chitrakar (2010, interview) said Binduraj Subal was worked inside dark room and busy with crafting block for publishing photo in Gorkhapatra.

In the debate of first photojournalist no writers seek the factual information from concerned department for accreditation. NFPJ has recognized Gopal Chitrakar as the first photojournalist believing Chitrakar. ‘With no doubt Gopal Dai is the first photojournalist of Nepal’ NFPJ Secretary Deependra Bajracharya said (2009, interview). ‘There were others who worked as a photojournalist before me but I was officially appointed in Gorkhapatra 1973′ Chitrakar told (2010, interview).  Nepali photo journalists remember 1973 as the beginning of a new profession. It was the first day when photojournalist was recognized. It took years to start photojournalism as a profession but the credit of publishing first news photograph as well as starting of new profession go to Gorkhapatra. There are fewer studies made in photojournalism, academic studies are rare. Some of the studies are reflected in the articles. There is no single research conducted with systematic manner registered in Martin Chautari, Tribhuvan Univeristy Center Library, KathmanduUniversity as well as Pokhara  and PurvanchalUniversity. Only the book ‘Changing faces of Nepal-the Glory of Asia’s past’ published in Nepal by Ratna Pustak Bhandar in 1997 for the UNESCO Division of Cultural Heritage and Himal Asia reflects the historical tradition of photography. Here are some article and features lists in which writers, photojournalists and authors discussed about development, career, possibilities and state.

Photojournalism as for academic study some universities started to taught with communication and journalism. Tribhuvan University started Journalism and Mass Communication studies since 1921 via Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus. Photojournalism is taught under ‘Photography and Advanced Reporting (JMC 315) in bachelors as well as a unit portion in Intermediate Level.  Higher Secondary Education Board has included photojournalism as a unit for class 12 students.  KathmanduUniversity runs four years Bachelor in Media Studies with three credits Photography and Photojournalism in 6th semester with course code MEDS 306. Purvanchal University is running Journalism and Mass Communication program in Bachelor and Masters Level which includes photojournalism in two semesters. In B.A. MCJ 421 Basics of Photo Journalism with 3 credits taught in fourth semester. An advanced 3 credits photojournalism is taught in 5th semester with a course title B.A MCJ 425 Advanced Photo and Visual Journalism. In Masters Level MCJ 524 titled course covers 3 credits of photojournalism. It seems all major universities have included photojournalism in their curriculum.