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Kishor Kayastha: An old studio owner’s son has a new dream of elevating photography as an art in Nepal

Kishor Kayastha
Kishor Kayastha has been in the photography field for over three decades. Photo courtesy: Kishor Kayastha

Working in the darkroom of his family-owned photo studio, Kishor Kayastha always dreamed about being the country’s best photographer. But, determination alone was not going to make it happen. To fulfil his dream, he worked hard. 

At a time when there were hardly any photography books, he used the knowledge given to him by his mother and practised day and night. He took notes, planned his shots and pushed boundaries to get to where he is today.

His shots are meticulous. They have a certain symmetry that can only be found in paintings. They are raw, they are rugged but they are beautiful. For someone who sought to be the best, Kishor Kayastha has been able to do just that and stake his claim as the best in Nepal. 

“I feel lucky that I found my passion in my childhood. I had the aim to be the best and have always worked towards being the best,” he says.

Now in his 40s, Kishor Kayastha has the same energy and passion as he had in his early teens as he continues to reinvent himself. While he feels that there are people in the country that want him to retire, he says retirement has not even crossed his mind as he wants to continue to push boundaries and create art through this lens.

The little studio boy

For most of his early teens, Kishor Kayastha worked in the studio helping his parents develop prints. As he was doing that, he became obsessed with photography. The idea of creating something made him happy and when he shot his first photograph, a passport-size photo, there was no turning back.

“My parents were away and an aunt I knew needed the photo soon, so I clicked it, developed it and gave it to her,” he says.

His parents were shocked, but having seen his love for the art they allowed him to work in the studio despite knowing there was not much scope in the profession. His mother even took him along as she shot weddings and other events in and around Bhaktapur in the late 80s.

By his late teens, Kishor Kayastha had drawn a knack for photography. Having seen his mother’s self-portraits always fascinated him. The lowkey images where his mother played with lighting always made him curious and he too started to shoot playing with lights.

The early dream

Kishor Kayastha
Kayastha is a self-taught photographer. Photo courtesy: Kishor Kayastha

It was around then that he started to dream about getting better. He was not interested in school and started to manifest being the best photographer in the country. Being subject to constant bullying, all he wanted as a child was to prove to his bullies how great he could be.

Around grade six, he started roaming around the streets of Bhaktapur with his camera. He started visualising photographs differently. He started using the golden ratio and started to play with lines in his photographs.

“I was doing more maths than photography at one point.”

Just as Kishor Kayastha was getting better, he came across a magazine called Soviet Bhumi which had pictures of architecture in the then Soviet Union. That inspired him to take pictures of the monuments in his home town in Bhaktapur.

As he was very religious, he shot a lot of temples at the start. Along with that, he also clicked pictures of mothers with their children. This, he says, was mostly because of his love for his mother. 

“During the start of my career, I planned a lot before I shot. The objects and people in my frame are there because I wanted them to be there.”

He says before he shot, he wanted to put himself on the people’s shoulders. And maybe that is what brings life to his photos.

Photography as an art

For most of his career, Kishor Kayastha shot because he loved doing it. But in 2000, when he held his first exhibition, a lot changed for him as all his photographs were bought.

“I didn’t know people would pay that much for a photograph that changed a lot of things in my life.”

He recalls how he bought the equipment he always wanted with the money he earnt through the exhibition. 

“I had to lie and use a wide angle lens to click a picture of Swayambhu I always wanted. I was over the moon when I finally got my own wide-angle lens,” says Kayastha.

Kishor Kayastha also gives a lot of credit to his work to artists like Picasso and Van Gogh among others. He spent hours in libraries going through paintings by these great artists and learning how to visualise art. That is why most of his pictures are like art as they have emotion, they have graphics, and in some, there is even a story.

Following his exhibition, he got different commercial work. He also started to shoot for the ECS magazine where he was applauded for his fashion shoots.

“If I recall well, one of my best photos during my childhood was the fashion when I asked my sister to put on my suit and shot her using different lighting. When ECS asked me to do it, I enjoyed doing it. People started to applaud it and I became the country’s best fashion photographer.”

Assertion of the worth

Kishor Kayastha
For most of his career, Kishor Kayastha shot because he loved doing it. But in 2000, when he held his first exhibition, a lot changed for him as all his photographs were bought. Photo courtesy: Kishor Kayastha

But, it has not been all rosy. There have been a lot of challenges for Kishor Kayastha. Despite being the best, he has failed to get work due to his high fees; the bank has come in and taken away his car as self-doubt nearly broke him.

Despite all that, he did not give up. He knew his worth he always has as he continued to grind and look for projects not just in Nepal but abroad too.

“I don’t want to lower my cost because that would be untrue to myself and my art.”

But, not getting work in Nepal does pose different questions to him. Kishor Kayastha often asks himself if he is good enough or if he is too expensive. While doing so, he does recall his early life and how a boy from a simple family changed the way people shoot fashion in Nepal.

“Before me, fashion shoots were like soft porn, but I wanted to change that and portrayed women as powerful figures because we need to respect them,” he says. 

From an early age, Kishor Kayastha has always believed in his ability to “make” pictures. He often tells people that he does not take pictures, he makes them. Given how he has shot some pictures, his statement holds true. 

For him, the frame is a blank canvas where he paints his art. But, not everyone sees his art in the same way and he believes that it is an issue in modern society.

“Around 90 per cent of youth today don’t know how to appreciate art. They don’t go to museums or art galleries. How will they appreciate art? It’s impossible,” Kishor Kayastha says.

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Pant is a journalist currently working for Onlinekhabar. He writes on movies and music, travel and mountains, and culture among others.

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