Telling Pictures

A good photograph is when the image captured can invoke a myriad of feelings. It is a culmination of intelligence, passion and dedication to capture events unfolding with a voice stronger than sound bytes. It is the acute knowledge to immortalize and freeze the spirit in one single frame as the photographer sees fit. Yet at times, the events unfolding are so extraordinary that capturing can hardly be task.

In these times when we are exposed to a vast display of images at a global level, it can be an incredible task to focus and recognize a frame that shakes the very foundation of one’s belief; which overwhelms and etches in our minds the essence of that frame. It is truly the mark of a great photograph. The work of an artist is to tap on to the nuances and give it voice. The work of a photographer is no easy task when the job requires relaying emotions through images.

So, when I was asked to write an article reflecting my understanding of photojournalism, I, for obvious reasons, took the time to recollect (from memory) the pictures that have spoken to me in ways I certainly cannot word. Image is a powerful thing, especially in this day and age when everything is extremely visual. Photographs can tell a story of its own; I have tried here to impress my personal interpretations of some of my favorite pictures. I narrowed it down to three frames.

The first frame- which always manages to convey a different message every time I look at it- is one from the Coronation 2008. The Coronation Celebrations was an event which we will not forget in our lives, by virtue of experience and wealth of photographs. Personally, the main essence of Coronation 2008 was captured in a single shot. This photograph is at once a favorite for all, and is widely conspicuous for probably the same reasons. The powerful picture captures the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuk crowning His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck with the Raven Crown. For me the picture defines few things; humility, acceptance, reverence, assurance, protection, and change. Humility in both Their Majesties and their laden roles as King, acceptance of a higher purpose before personal lives, reverence of one generation to its predecessor, as well a confirmed assurance to guide and protect, and a mutual understanding for the ever-changing.

For me, this frame is more powerful that it draws light to another picture of another coronation. It serves us a reminder of the bygone era; to a June day in 1974, when His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck was crowned the King of Bhutan at a young age of 17 years.

The picture is of a young King standing on a podium, during the Guard of Honor. This image is a somber reminder of what His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck missed during his own coronation; a father first, and a King to guide. To many this picture impressed a valiant demeanor and determination of a young King to serve his country. Every time I look at this picture, I can’t help but wonder the steel like resilience it must have taken for a young man from succumbing to personal grief, to take on the responsibility of a King in consoling a bereft populace and take the nation forward.

The picture is a reminder of a very young nation under a very young King, in flux between isolation and modern progress. It gives a sense of the daunting tasks ahead, and also relays our success as a nation under His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s reign. We became prosperous, successful and carved an identity as a nation with the spirit of happiness.

The Coronation 2008 of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was a celebration of that success and the moment of passing onto its next generation. It was heartwarming without bittersweet moments, unlike earlier coronations in Bhutan. A gift was passed down on its people, in its full glory. The picture depicts a trust in age old customs, and a reverence for the older generation. Our nation has done well by combining new approaches with age old wisdom. Age old wisdom by virtue of being old is passed down from generation to generation.

The final picture holds sentimental value for me because of the enormity of its message. With the risk of sounding contrived, I only include this picture here for the sole purpose to juxtapose and buttress my interpretations of the earlier photographs. This picture is a shot of old man with his grandchild. An ordinary Bhutanese family out on a normal day, and paying respects and partaking in events unfolding in the country.

It is an adorable picture of a toddler sitting on the lap of the grandfather, but it is endearing for the same reason that a grandfather is guiding a young human being towards his/her future. The pointed finger is a depiction of wisdom and experience that is and will be passed down.

In today’s world of the internet and the subsequent explosion of information, the present generation is at a risk of feeling indefatigable and invincible. There is a risk of assuming the old is obsolete; it is only true for machines. We have to appreciate the vast knowledge and experience of our older generations, and always maintain a reverence for ‘phama gi bjin bjim yontey’ to succeed further. The wisdom of our parents should be the guiding light for our future.

I put this last picture for the sole purpose that Bhutan is its people. The Monarchs are the bearers of the torch that must never die out; it will be the death of the Bhutanese identity. Therefore, it is also our responsibility to play a willing part in passing down our knowledge, as and when the time comes.

All these pictures represent a single desire to leave behind something good. Through these images, we begin to see the journey of our country and appreciate the roles of our predecessors and parents. Our Monarchs have steered us in the right direction, and our parents have guided us toward a better future. We must prepare to be in a position to leave behind a nation- still built on a synergy of age old customs and new ideas- for our next generation. The following line best projects the spirit of transience and hope of parents:

“If I were to make a prayer, I would ask that during my son’s reign the people of my country would be far more prosperous and happy than they are today.”

                                                 His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck

                                                  3rd Hereditary King of Bhutan

This spirit will eventually enable us to pass on a gift, and perhaps, witness another enthronement and the beginning of a new era for the Bhutanese people.

PS: this article was written for the October Edition of DRUKPA magazine 2010.


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