What did you discover while exploring Nepal as a photographer?
A surprise! I did not expect to gain as many friends as I did, and fall in love with the Nepali people the way I did.
It is a truly beautiful nation whose people made my husband and I feel so welcome and loved, even as travelers. Bridging the language barrier was a challenge for sure, but somehow love and acceptance, in the form of genuine smiles and delicious home-cooked meals, was able to cross that barrier.
Were you working on the road?
We were based in the capital city of Kathmandu for 90% of our time. We did get a chance to travel to one of the remote mountain villages one weekend, and did some other short trips to some of the touristy towns around Nepal.
I’m glad we got to travel, and get a feeling for what it’s like to be on the road in Nepal. Those roads are no joke! They are not only extremely narrow and bumpy, but they are often alongside the mountains, hundreds of meters above the ground and extremely steep. It was an adventure!
How does photography give you a different perspective while traveling?
Being a photographer when traveling can be both an advantage as well as a disadvantage. Photography has opened my eyes to see the beauty of the world in a more intense way. A beautiful landscape becomes that much more beautiful to me.
Everywhere I look, my mind takes mental pictures, wishing I could freeze the moment and take it with me in time. This can be somewhat of a curse sometimes. Just taking in and enjoying the beauty of a glorious sunset, a beautiful person, or a special moment for what it is can be a challenge.
I have to remind myself constantly that not taking a photograph does not take away from the beauty of that moment in time. This was a huge challenge for me in Nepal. As I walked the streets as part of my everyday routine, I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of what was going on around me.
The people! The colors! And then often I would feel frustrated because I was unable to capture that beauty on camera. It took me a little while to truly understand that this life — the crazy, bustling life on the streets of Nepal — is so much more precious than the fraction of a second that my camera can freeze.
There are stories behind the moments, real people, with real emotions and real struggles.
You lost your camera towards the end of the trip. What was your experience like after that, without a camera?
I dropped and broke my camera two weeks before the end of our trip. Two weeks that we had specifically set aside for traveling and taking photos. I was forced to put into practice, precisely that which I had learned about taking in moments for what they are, not for what they can provide me with in a digital format.
Photographs do have a special way of assisting you to relive special times, and that is something I don’t take for granted. The challenge is to get the balance right — to document an already beautiful moment, rather than validating it by taking a photo of it.
How is it different photographing people as opposed to scenery?
I think a big danger as a tourist in a developing country is that we can easily begin to treat local people as objects for our own visual pleasure.
We might casually show off the moving picture we took of the poor, crippled lady on the side of the road to our friends, yet make no effort to get to know her, or even speak to her. We think about what we can get out of the subjects in our photography, and sometimes forget to treat them as equals.
One thing I learned very early in our travels was that a lot of people do not want their picture taken. I quickly started to feel like I was violating people’s rights in taking pictures of them without their permission. My mindset needed a change, and from that point on I began to ask people for permission to capture them on film.
The regular rejection can be hard to take, but I know that it was necessary and right. We do not usually feel justified taking photos of other westerners in our own cities going about their day. Why do we feel that it is somehow okay to treat someone who is finanically poor differently? That person deserves our respect just as much — if not more!
What would you like other people to learn when looking at your Nepal pictures?
I would like people to look at my pictures and feel a sense of shared humanity with the people in them. Most of my pictures are of children — there is something so carefree and joyful about the faces of smiling children.
I hope that my pictures will instill a sense of pride in the beauty of our human race. It is hugely on my heart to see people of different cultures and races unifying as one in making our world an inclusive place, for man-made barriers to be broken. If somehow my pictures can play a part in that, I know that I will have done my job.
Tabitha Mee is a wedding photographer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She admires the great outdoors and loves having meaningful conversations with friends over a drink. She is also an avid traveler and has visited countries across four continents. She has a big heart for marginalized peoples, and strives to play an active part in fighting injustices in our world.