Conversation with Surendra Lawoti on Landscape in Transformation:The Kathmandu Project

Technology has truly changed how we connect with each other. Recently a friend in Toronto reached out to me on Facebook and told me about an exciting project that Surendra Lawoti is planning to do. Surendra, a photographer based in Toronto who has exhibited his work internationally is planning to doLandscape in Transformation: The Kathmandu Project. He plans to be in Nepal for five weeks in July and August of 2012 capturing Kathmandu’s changing landscape.

Surendra is raising $3,000 (new goal: $4,500) through indiegogo to work on this campaign. Please visit Landscape in Transformation: The Kathmandu Project to learn more about this project and how to contribute.

We set up a time to talk on Skype and discussed his project and its vision. Here’s a summary of our conversation from May 18, 2012.

How did this idea come about?

I have been living abroad in North America since 1994. I finished my undergraduate in Chicago, and then got my MFA in Boston. Four years ago I arrived in Canada. Since I was educated here, I always wanted to do a project in Nepal. The last time I was in Nepal was 2010. At that time I looked around to see what I could do in Nepal. I really wanted to do a photo project.
I am interested in the social and political meaning behind the landscapes. I want to learn the story behind something or someone. Recently, I did a project titled Don River. Don River is a river situated in Toronto which passes some towns and there are a lot of homeless people living close to it plus there is a jungle. I was interested to learn more about the homeless people and how they reached there. There are factors of urbanization, economics and poverty in there. We can’t just say they are homeless because they are poor. There are a lot of things behind how they got there. In a similar fashion, Nepal’s landscape is changing. For example, there are multiple reasons why Bagmati is dirty and I hope to capture the story through my pictures.

In the Indiegogo website, it states: With this project, I want to create a dialogue by bringing forth my photographs to the public of Kathmandu, to the people in power, to the people who can influence and to the people who are concerned. Can you elaborate more on the dialogue you want to create? 
Traditionally, after you have done the work, you would do a gallery exhibit. I was thinking to myself how can I engage people? In terms of the issues related to urbanization, I want to talk to Bagmati Development committee and other organizations and learn from them.
Perspective in photography is different from social sciences. In social sciences you focus on a lot of facts. However in art and especially photography what you get is a new perspective. Photography has a new language.
I want to showcase my work through local publications. For Don River, I took it to the exhibition, which draws a lot of people who are into the arts. Besides that group, a lot of people would not get to see it. So I want to focus on exhibiting my work through publications. I live in Toronto so first I want to learn from the people in Kathmandu and then show them my work.
My ideal goal is to learn from environmentalists, people in social sciences and those who run squatter settlement organizations and then create a discussion and dialogue.

How can this project help the general public?
Photography is a simple thing. When you click the camera, you get a realistic representation of something. Once I heard a great artist describe photography as either a mirror or a window. It is a window because you look out to the world and a mirror because it is a representation of you. I think this project will help understand Kathmandu in a new perspective. Photography often exaggerates a certain thing. A photograph presents a certain image and I want to bring forth the language or vocabulary of the photographic images.

Are you planning to do an art show later in Nepal on this project? 
My first audience for this project is Nepali people living in Nepal. Later on I can bring the work to the audience in North America.

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