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Snapshots of history

  It is interesting to observe the minute details of the changes that places have gone through


KATHMANDU: October 27 was the UNESCO’s World Day for audiovisual heritage, being celebrated this year with the slogan ‘Saving Our Heritage for the Next Generation’. In commemoration of this day, the UNESCO Kathmandu office organised a photo exhibition at the Patan Museum aptly titled ‘Heritage and photography. A dialogue’. There were 34 images, which have been brought together from five different collections: Department of Archaeology, Kaiser Library, Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Kiran Man Chitrakar Collection and Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya. For each of the seven monument zones a chronological series of images are displayed which range from 1898 to 2013.

The mini kaleidoscope of images of each heritage site reveals a wealth of information. Observers can learn the history of these monument zones in comparison to the series of images. Moving one’s gaze back and forth reveals changes that have taken place from one snapshot to the next. Between some images it takes time to spot the differences. With others, it is rather obvious.

We live in a world perceived by us through given frequencies. This is of course very different from a movie, which provides frames in such close sequence that the images come to life. Movies are usually shown at 24 frames per second. A recent article in The Economist magazine explained how animals, including us, perceive time through such frequencies. The article states that subjective experience of time can be measured by the critical flicker-fusion frequency (CFF), which is the lowest frequency that a light can flicker and still be perceived to be continuous. For humans this is 60 hertz (60 times a second). In contrast, having four images covering a century will of course allow for a lot of conjecture on what might have happened between the snapshots. When timeline crosses 1934, the great earthquake occurred, one observes a jarring discrepancy. Parts of this incongruity are seen to have been fixed over the years.

As we walk through the exhibition we perceive the history of the seven monument zones in very low frequency. However, the slow motion change of the image frames allows us to learn all kinds of interesting things. For example, in Swayambhu there was a third, but smaller Shikhara temple to the north of Pratappur temple, possibly lost during the earthquake. We see that there were two dormer windows on the roof of the building just west of the golden gate at Bhaktapur and today there is only one. We can also observe that the way the crowd gathered on steps of the Maju Dega temple in Hanuman Dhoka during festivals today is similar to what they did in 1930s. The photos of Changu Narayan show images of statues that stood next to Vishnu Vishvarupa which have now disappeared. We see how half a century ago Bauddhanath stupa rose majestically over the surrounding ring of huts, while today it struggles to keep its posture within the urban confusion. It is interesting to observe the minute details of the changes that places have gone through. The images show what they were like before the earthquake, and how they were damaged, randomly restored and later rectified. The images illuminate forgotten secrets: scratches and scars of time on historical buildings over centuries.

The exhibition was curated by Cristeena Chitrakar and contemporary photographs were taken by Swaraj Man Chitrakar, the great grandchild of Dirgha Man Chitrakar, court photographer of Rana prime ministers at the beginning of the last century. It is up to young generation to take on the responsibility of saving our

audiovisual heritage. They must, however, ensure that the dialogue between photographs and heritage also continues.

(The author is an architect and can be contacted through

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