The Ultimate Souvenir

As many of you know, Christelle and I travel regularly to Nepal thanks to the on-location workshops that we host, as well as for projects that we develop there like the one that was recently published in National Geographic.

However, this story is not about Buddhist monks in the Himalayas or street photography in Kathmandu. This is the story of Prem and his dream.

Exhibition Opening.

The last time that we visited Nepal was in February 2020. Yes, we were there when this science-fiction dystopia that we are living in began, but that is another story; what I want to talk to you about today has to do with the owner of the hotel where we stayed for most of the month we spent in this incredible country.

Prem, the name of said owner, is known in the Kathmandu valley as the Nepalese Ironman and I have to admit there is a reasonable resemblance, however I also have the feeling that he has earned the title because of his desire to innovate and promote progress in the country (it goes without saying that if you ever visit Kathmandu, his hotel the Dalai-La is the place to stay). Prem, is a visionary as well as an excellent “host”.

The year 2020 was supposed to be a great year for Nepali tourism. The government had invested large sums of money and had launched a powerful campaign to attract tourists from all over the world, not only to trek through the Himalayas, but also to inspire visitors to discover the rest of the wonders the country has to offer. In light of this, Prem came up with a phenomenal idea. He brought together the best artists in the country to design a symbol that could be embraced by everyone; all ethnicities, all religions and all ages. The result was the creation (or better yet, revival) of a historically predominant symbol and legend in Nepali culture: the Yeti.

Prem, in his quest to bring his idea to life, managed to convince everyone who needed convincing and began to manufacture 188 immense Yetis (more than two meters in height each!), have them painted by different artists ranging from 19 years old to 90 years of age, and install them in different places in and outside of Nepal. The idea was brilliant because as an institution or individual you could “adopt” one of these Yetis decorated with unique pieces of art and exhibit it wherever you were, such as the Asian art museum in New York or the Everest base camp.

The plan was not to stop at “just” this extraordinary and expensive action, but to transform the mythical creature into a souvenir that would transcend the limited time-frame and be accessible to anyone for couple of dollars: “I want people to be able to look at it and smile as they remember their time in Nepal”.

Yeti souvenir. Visit Nepal 2020
Yeti souvenir. Visit Nepal 2020

That got me thinking …

As authors, artists or creators, we almost always aspire to publish in the most famous magazines in the world, to win prizes, to exhibit in great galleries…to be recognised. But isn’t the purpose of our photography to express ourselves? For our message, whatever it may be, to reach as many people as possible?

The great achievements are of course important, especially in today’s world, but the stories about who or what appears in our photos are more important than us, the photographers.

So what does a snowman souvenir have to do with photography?

Well, it has to do with the fact that we photographers have our own particular souvenir: postcards. And although it seems almost an anachronism in this digital age, postcards are still the most purchased souvenir in shops, and for a good reason. A postcard not only has a photo of the place, you can also use it to write about your experience and send it to someone on the other side of the planet. The problem is obviously that they are usually a bit cliché, but what if we apply Prem’s reasoning and make a collection of postcards out of our magnificent job or project and sell them at our local kiosk? What if we all do it? Can you imagine how the perception of photography would change amongst the general public? Can you imagine the scope of your work if hundreds or thousands of people had your work displayed in their homes around the world?

One of our Members, Heidi Alexander, beat us to the punch and already has a collection of postcards on sale from her project ‘The Stockport Collection’. To purchase her postcards DM Heidi via Instagram

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