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life through the lens

Photography was once a hobby for photo journalist Bikas Rauniar who is a student of law. He also belongs to a traditional business family where it is understood that sons would engage and eventually take over the mantle of business from the fathers and grand fathers. However Bikas decided otherwise and decided to pursue his passion for photography. One particular picture he had taken marked the turning point of his career choice. “I had just clicked this photo of big trucks carrying guns. After two years, in 2045 B.S. the Indian blockade pointed to Nepal getting weapons from China. My photo became relevant to the news of conflict between India and Nepal and was published by multiple publications. I was even paid 90 dollars at that time for that picture by AP. And that incited my interest in pursuing photo journalism as a career seriously”.

Bikas has three decades of experience as a photographer and is the winner of multiple awards. His works have been published in various national and international magazines, newspapers and publications. He worked for Kantipur Publications as a photo journalist for 22 years and was also the photo editor. He stepped back from an active career seven years ago but continues to live his passion. “Whenever I go outside the valley, I imprison the scenes of early morning and lives of different people. I find it amazing. And some of my photos still get published”, he shares. Bikas is now involved in the family business, and also wants to use his law degree. “I have renewed the license of Nepal Bar Council and I want to use this for the deeper social causes”, he says. He also has plans of doing travel photography once a year.
Bikas is down to earth, practical and shares immense interest for social change. Married to Samjhana Upreti Rauniar, a filmmaker, he is the Executive Producer of the film, Megha. Filmmaking has always held a special interest and he has worked as Assistant to Director for a French documentary titled, Life of Buddha; as Assistant Cinematographer for the Chinese Film, The story of Ah Sau Law; and even as an actor in the award-winning short Nepali film, Apbad. He was also recently in the news for the photo exhibition Stills from Films, a collection of the cinematic world at the third edition of NIFF.

WOW’s Pabita Dahal caught up with him to talk about his professional and life journey. Excerpts:

You belong to the business family and studied law but became a photojournalist. How did it fall in place?

The interest in photography was implanted in class eight when a Japanese teacher came for a short time to teach photo processing. That interest turned into a passion when my uncle brought a Minolta SR-T 101 camera at home. I used to roam around with it in Basantapur area, click photos and print them, and then show the pictures to the senior studio photographers and take feedback. I especially thank Arjun Thapa and Mohamad Khan who did not only teach me photography techniques but also provided lenses and different cameras to try. I also used to visit the American library and different exhibitions to study more about photography. After SLC, I was actively involved in Godavari Alumni Association where we started a photography club. I used to take photos of the GAA events and also worked in the darkroom to make photographs.

I was deliberately eager to be a lawyer. So I joined the law campus. Classes were in the morning and I utilised the day time to take pictures.

During college, we St. Xaverians started a magazine called Sparks in which I worked as the legal adviser and photographer. After that, I also worked for Himal Magazine and Independent Weekly. Gradually, people started recognising me. Finally, in 1992, the editor of Kantipur Publications Yogesh Upadhaya offered me a job. I worked there for almost 22 years. I started as a junior photographer and retired as a photo editor seven years ago.

What does photography mean to you?

It is the art of capturing a moment. Once you see and feel a particular moment, it does not remain forever. But when you capture that moment, it becomes recorded forever. I feel so privileged that I am a capturer of these moments.

What has been your experience working as a photo journalist and a photo editor for more than two decades?

It was amazing. But more than the working days, I find my pictures more precious now. I have captured the history of more than three decades. Fortunately and unfortunately we have seen many changes in the political history of Nepal in a short period. I became a photographer during the tenure of King Birendra, and by the time I retired from photography the country was a republic. The royal massacre, republican movement, democratic movement, Maoist movement are important incidents and I had the chance to capture all these. I feel lucky.

What was the transition from analogue to digital?

The transition from analogue to digital was new learning. Although photo techniques were the same, processing of digital camera, photoshop, photo editing, saving and transferring the pictures to the computer all were fresh. It also made things simpler, easier and faster. Printing one photo from reel would take more than two hours but the arrival of the digital camera reduced it. It provided us the privilege of working from home too. The reel used to be so expensive and so we could not click more than 5-6 photos in one program even if we wanted to, but the digital camera eliminated the limitation.

How do you view photojournalism as a career today?

Photojournalism today is advanced. In my time, it was not taken as a profession. If I said that I work as a photojournalist; people would still wonder what I actually do. But the scene is different today. It is considered a very respectable, serious and high standard job. People understand that it is also a kind of reporting.

Tell us about your experience with ‘Stills from Films’?

Before talking about it, I must thank Nayantara and Photo Circle who digitalised all my photos. That’s why I could arrange them in different categories. When NIFF’s Chairperson KP Pathak asked me for the exhibition, I immediately said yes. My exhibition, which comprised 28 different photos, reflected the cinematic world from 1985 to 2011. The photos were simple but they became significant when put together and were representative of Hollywood, Bollywood and Kollywood. Some photos received very good response. A picutre of the old Ranjana cinema hall which no longer exists made the residents of Kathmandu nostalgic. The audience was also amazed to see Tom Cruise in the collection of Nepali photographer. These were simple photos but received good response.

Who has been the greatest influencer in your work and life?

There are lots of renowned photographers. But I would like to remember American photographer Gail Bryan especially. She is a great inspiration for me and she taught me what travel photography is. In fact, one week with her in Boston converted me into a professional photographer. Besides her, Shahidul Alam, a photographer from Bangladesh, has had great influence on me. I took a photographer trainer training from him and that was my first formal academic session in photography. During that session, my global networking expanded and international publications also started demanding my work. I also got the opportunity to meet great photographers like Pablo Bartholomew, Steve McCurry in the same training.

In life, I would say my wife has been the biggest influence. Before marriage, I was a bit diplomatic but now I have learned to be more straight forward from her.

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