Biafro Glacier, Panorama near Baintha, Pakistan
 
   

 

 

Himalayan Journeys

"Deserts idle,/ Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven." Thus, with tales of travel did Othello enchant Desdemona. "She swore in faith 'twas strange, 'twas passing strange." From childhood on do we define ourselves by such strange journeys of the imagination: by quests, by pilgrimages of transformation, by searches to recover an enchanted kingdom. When we are lost, like Othello, we are lost and perish in such regions of the mind.

In realms of the imagination the Himalayas stand supreme. They are emblems of the ultimate challenge and ultimate passage. In these mountains both beauty and the finality of death have together been confronted. The solitary wanderer has scarcely been given tolerance.

And yet, for the photographer the nature of the challenge is not immediately obvious. The photographer enters upon a symbolic journey in which all is uncertain. The subject matter is bafflingly different, the light is too intense, no clouds relieve the harshness of the sky; the equipment is heavy, the toes hurt, acclimatization is slow, the risks are significant and dust gets in the film holders. Once home the further struggle begins to decide between the several claims of documentation, print quality and formal strength.

As I have crossed and recrossed these mountains it has seemed that two realms of experience were being explored: that of the ancient life of the village and that of the arid pathways, high passes, shattered ice falls and isolated peaks. The two realms are intertwined, and sometimes they seem locked in conflict.

In the former realm Buddhism celebrates the seasons of birth and death and declares the transience of all existence with tattered prayer flags.

In the latter realm the land cannot be possessed. No right of transit can be assumed; only isolated stone piles mark human passage. To cross the high passes, to ascend the peaks, requires a total concentration of the will: there is total clarity, total isolation and enveloping light.

KENNETH HANSON January 2002. Jorgensen Gallery.


NOTE: The black and white photographs in this exhibit have been taken on 4x5 sheet film using an old-fashioned field camera mounted on a sturdy wooden tripod. The work presented is the result seven trips to the Nepal Himalaya, two to the Baltistan Karakorum and one to Ladakh. The India-Pakistan cease-fire line now divides the Baltistan region from Ladakh. Before Partition both were within the state of Kashmir. The country designation on the labels indicate the de facto government in control. The Nepal high Himalayan regions and Ladakh are predominantly Tibetan Buddhist.. The Balti people speak a Tibetan dialect and were once Buddhists, but they converted to Shiite Islam in the Sixteenth century. In displaying the photographs I have retained the division into regions, but my concern is with a symbolic story that recurs in each region.