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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

In The Valley Of Kashmir

John Isaac puts the exotic world of Kashmir into a universal perspective

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A Gujar home in Nara Nag.
Isaac’s work reveals both the exotic nature of Kashmir and the commonalities with other peoples. The universal human condition appealed strongly to Isaac, so he worked to show it in these pictures.

“This man told me,” recounts Isaac, “he said, ‘You live in New York. I don’t know what New York is like, but I bet you have a normal life in the evening with your wife and your children and your family. You have dinner and the next day you go to work. We basically do the same thing. It so happens that in the last few years we’ve had some problems and fighting, so we’re fed up with being labeled as a terrorist state and so you have to treat us the way you have your friends and your family.’ So that’s what I tried to do.”

Isaac’s view of Kashmir may be innocent, but the photographer says that makes it no less true. His experience, as his photos show, was one of beauty and simplicity. This appealed to British and European tourists in the past, and with travelogues like Isaac’s, it’s sure to regain popularity.

Buying firewood on Dal Lake
“I must tell you,” he says, “I’ve traveled to more than 100 countries in my life working as a photojournalist, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as pretty as Kashmir. It’s spectacular. And that’s the part I wanted to bring out. It’s more like a pictorial coffee-table book, more like a travel book. You have the glaciers, the villagers, the mountains, everyday life, farming, grass harvesting. It’s also inside family life, how they live inside their houses.”

Capturing intimate views of family life requires a photographer with a special sensitivity. Not only was he welcomed into their homes with a camera in hand, but Isaac invested such care in these interactions that the photographs seem especially authentic. Rather than capturing poses, he provides glimpses of real life in this picturesque place.

Kashmir’s sheer beauty is what first appealed to Isaac, along with the exotic nature of an ancient culture that seemed to transport one back in time. Weather was also a draw, as the region’s four seasons offered a changing environment on every trip. Still, it wasn’t so much the region’s differences that provided his favorite images; it was the universal.
“I have a picture of a mother with a baby on her lap sleeping,” he says, “and she’s cooking dinner. It was supper, just like in my house or your house, it’s the same thing. There’s one of a father and son, almost like in the U.S. Some of the portraits I did, a father holding a baby....”


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