Monday, 24 February, 2020

History of the people, by the people, for the people


Aashish Mishra

When people think of historical events, they think of battles, coronations or earthquakes, not a local wedding in Panauti. Similarly, when many picture historians, they think of a professor or a scholar digging through old manuscripts and going around, not a hippy with a camera.
But with the Facebook page ‘Old Photo of Nepal’ (OPN) these unlikely historians are bringing forth the “real” history of the country – a history that had so far been concealed to the personal albums of people.
As the admin of the page put it, “The real history of a country is the history of its people, not merely of its rulers.” He added, “The daily lives of the people can actually tell us more about the history than wars, assassinations and coup de tats.”
Accordingly, the page features pictures, along with some videos and audio materials, of weddings, childbirths, people working in the fields, old photos of sleepy villages that have now become bustling cities, all providing a glimpse of what life was like in Nepal before ‘modernisation’ caught up.
“It was our objective to democratise history, if you will - to show a history of the people, for the people and by the people,” the admin said adding, “This is also the reason we chose social media, because it is free and everyone can contribute.”
The page was started by a small group of people passionate about old photos and old Nepal in 2014. This group includes Nepalis as well as foreigners who had travelled to Nepal in the 60s and 70s as hippies, Peace Corp Volunteers or simple tourists. The page has since grown, amassing more than 91,000 followers and spawning two subsidiary pages ‘Photo Museum Nepal’ and ‘Nepalka Purana Photoharu.’
Yet, for all their efforts, the members of this group do not wish to disclose their identities. “Let’s keep the focus on the photos, not us,” the admin chuckled.
This page is not the first, and definitely not the only entity working towards collecting and archiving old photos in Nepal. Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya started this work decades ago. Even on the digital front, Nepal Picture Library is the one that started digitising old photos in 2011. So, while OPN did not initiate the practise of picture archiving, it did revolutionise it.
The page chose social media as the primary medium to showcase its photos, foregoing traditional event or gallery-based exhibitions. “This means that people can scroll through the photos at the place and time of their convenience,” the admin told The Rising Nepal, “Also, it’s free.”
And this exhibition model has proven to be wildly popular with audiences. The page is popular in countries like USA, Canada, France, the UK and Australia in addition to Nepal. It has both Nepali and foreigners actively contributing to its collection and holds an average rating of 8.6 out of 9 on Facebook.
“The best thing is that it is easily accessible and since it’s on Facebook, I can share and re-share it and tag my friends,” Nischal Adhikari, a follower of the page, stated. Tsering Tashi Sherpa, another follower, said, “We can see photos here that we can’t find anywhere else. That is what draws me to this page.” The admin agrees. “Most of our contributors have not shared their photos publicly before,” he said. “They took them during their travels and then stored them in their private albums.” According to the admin, sourcing their photos from private collections allows them to offer unique photos that have not been seen before and might not be seen again.
“However, we do not want to monopolise the photos,” he said. “We do not hold copyrights to any of the images; they belong to the owners themselves and they are free to share their photos to other platforms too.” OPN wants people to see, enjoy and learn from the photos, be it from their platform or any other.
In recent times, OPN is branching out into other activities. It has started organising school exhibitions so that children who are not on Facebook can also see and study the old photos. “The children are amazed to see what life was like before 50 years,” the admin said. The page is also looking to set up an office and move itself forward as an organisation.
“We just want people to understand history beyond what’s written in the text books,” OPN stated. “History isn’t only about the kings and queens; it’s about the everyday people and how they lived and what they experienced.”

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