The Elusive Light: A Ladakhi photographer's attempt to balance beauty and awareness
Titled ‘The Elusive Light’, Isaac Tsetan Gergan’s body of work is currently on display at the India International Centre. For Isaac, a visual artist and photographer based in Leh, the image-making process began very early on in life, with a camera constantly present around house, or with friends.
“I was always photographing. I think it runs in the family. My dad had one of those Pentax cameras, and the process of loading and unloading film always made me curious,” he tells Catch.
“More so, its the aspect of taking in the world around me and bringing it back as images that I find fascinating. I am quite a collector of things, and photographs have become like souvenirs that I collect from different places and moments in time,” he added.
A METAPHOR FOR THE HIMALAYAS
“This exhibition is from thousands of photographs, and the oldest photograph is from almost seven years ago. However, years of making images pre-dated this exhibition and hence, I feel that this is a perfect culmination of all those years of work,” he says, explaining the collection.
For Issac, a photograph can be beautiful, yet still address a greater cause. While still early in the day, through this exhibition Isaac hopes to shed light on a variety of issues effecting Ladakh today. For instance, the issue in Pangong and its extreme commercialisation.
“There is so much garbage in Ladakh now. Mountains of garbage! And there isn't a good system of recycling. Hence, a lot of the garbage just stays in the mountains, which eventually affects not just us, but everybody in the rest of the country [as drinking water originates from the Himalayas],” he says despondently.
According to Isaac, one can go see a beautiful place and take photos. But, there remains a significant need to understand the history and culture of the place. Every land has its values and those must be respected. “These values have lasted for a thousands of years, and for a good reason. There is a lot at stake, be it heritage, be it culture or be it the land itself, ” he reminds us.
TAPPING THE EMERGING LADAKHI VOICES
In addition to being an independent photographer, Isaac is also a keen promoter of local talent in Leh. For instance, his collaboration with a local Thagka painter and Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation (LAMO) are helping to shape emerging talent in the region.
“A lot of the art forms come under the umbrella of Tibetan art, and that can be slightly problematic because while Ladakh had a lot of influence from Tibet, Kashmir and Central Asia, it also has a very different identity that often gets sidelined,” said Isaac.
“Hence, the challenge really is that how do you create a voice for Ladakhi arts? While it is a mountain culture, even within Ladakh there is a lot of diversity. Ladakh is more than just Leh, it also includes Kargil, which represents the Muslim side of Ladakh, that needs to be highlighted as well. It’s more than monks and stupas!”
Ladakh is rapidly changing, and the change is not just coming from outside, but from within as well. As the society progresses economically, the social fabric of Ladakh is also changing. “For instance, unlike before, people have become more individualistic now. The younger generation is bringing in new ideas, and there is tremendous potential for growth. There is a need to embrace the future, yet be rooted in values that have lasted for more than a thousand years,” said Isaac.