Diary of an artist in residence, University of Nottingham, part I, 30 January – 16 February 2017
From February to November 2017, thanks to the dedication and confidence of Dr Jean-Xavier Ridon, a Leverhulme Trust grant has allowed me to be an artist in residence at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.
The grant-winning project originates both in my 25 years relationship with Nepal and in Dr Ridon’s interest for the question of trace – including its photographic aspect. It has consisted in meeting several families among the 150 household strong Nepali community of Nottingham, in order to look into their representations of the migratory experience that brought them to the UK. I have done so through the prism of their family albums and through a re-interpretation of their images by the means of a series of 17 e-kus (a 17 seconds multimedia poem). A more detailed introduction to the project is available in the “Stories” section of this website.
In the meanwhile, a journal of this residence somehow came into existence. Out of respect for the persons and legal entities who support and welcome me in England, to create a sense of coherence in my daily life here, and finally out of linguistic curiosity, I chose to write this diary in English – that is to say, by making use of that language in a manner that is limited by my current knowledge of it. I do not pretend it to be devoid of misprints, neither of grammatical, syntactical nor orthographical mistakes, nor of inconsistencies in my language register. I hope that the ideas and memories that I try to expound will remain intelligible in spite of these imperfections.
Several years ago I wrote a text in which, among other things, I tried to examine the reasons why I no longer travel elsewhere but regularly stay in Nepal instead. An excerpt of this unpublished narrative reads: “I have become unable to conceive a journey any better than as a momentary sedentariness in the elsewhere, preferably always the same: the Nepali elsewhere. Being forced to invent solutions to tame a new place terrifies me. Constantly detestable is this condition of someone being teleported, naked, in the unknown – most of the time a false unknown by the way: always already, entirely foreseen.”
On the eve of an artistic residence in Nottingham during which I assert that I will focus on the city’s Nepali community and on their migratory experiences, the primary migration I can think of, as self-centred as this may sound, is mine. A comfortable migration, and a rather brief one, but a migration still.
Landing at Birmingham airport, threading my way to the train station, enquiring about the route to Nottingham, finding that there would be a change at New Street… It should have been nothing to worry about. I have done that, and worse, a hundred times in a hundred towns, from Tabriz to Golmud and Cochin to Bishkek. Coping with a new unknown is a routine adjustment, as simple as that. I even loved it, I guess, a long time ago. Today it isn’t simple any more. Whichever the unknown is, this kind of adjustment always feels like an ordeal to me, to the point that it becomes pathological. I can’t manage to figure out what I am learning by having to deal with how things operate in another elsewhere than the elsewhere in which I’ve been striving to immerse for twenty years: Nepal. With this in mind, I nearly forgot that the reason for me heading towards Nottingham through the corridors of the airport of Birmingham was because I am the recipient of a grant, which is going to give me the freedom to work on what I want and with whom I wish for a year.
Then came the time to buy this train ticket. There were two sales assistants at the counter in front of me. I handed a couple of banknotes to one of them. But this is no longer how you pay things here. Instead, I was supposed to insert my sheets of paper into a machine below the desk, being observed by the young attendants while doing so. And there were so many slits in that machine, the size of which didn’t match with the size of a banknote, that I couldn’t figure out which one to use. The boys were kind. One came out of his workplace’s enclosure and had my notes swallowed by the device on my behalf. Platform two. The train came. Only two stops to New Street. The connecting train also came. It was unclear where I was allowed to sit in the carriage. A few seats were empty but reserved. I chose randomly. Nothing bad happened. My neighbour changed seat after a while.
I am going to stay with Patricia here. She is a colleague of Jean-Xavier. She teaches Spanish literature at the University. She has a spare room in her apartment. The taxi driver at the station didn’t know the address. He drove too far. I walked in the wrong direction. Then I called Patricia, who put me back on the track.
I eventually reached the right building. I arrived in a place where someone was waiting for me. Someone who had prepared a room for me, who invited me to relax, then cooked a meal and offered me a glass of wine. Someone attentive, whom I had never met before, and who simply welcomed me, in that unknown place somewhere on Earth. Someone for whom this place is an elsewhere too. A foreigner, who has chosen to live in this town for some time and resolved to be present at what this choice implies, but who also thinks of elsewhere, has dreams elsewhere, has plans elsewhere, and who will maybe leave the city one day, sooner than most of its current passengers, yet later than me.
I thus did not arrive in a firm, clotted, frozen, codified place. Quite the contrary: a relative renunciation of certainties and an imperceptible wavering in the air make the place feel familiar. Soon it was no longer an unknown. I am transitory in someone else’s transition. I couldn’t have dreamt of a better situation. I was not willing to stay in a codified place. I assume that the University will be codified enough. The place that will serve as home for the time being needn’t duplicate that particular.
Somehow the resemblances with my arrival in Qatar last year are striking. Entering Doha had also been a confrontation, to say the least, with a new unknown. Then, once I stayed with E., the way he made me feel at home in his apartment lead to an appeasement that is comparable to what I felt this evening here. Furthermore, I was not looking for Qatar: I was looking for Nepal in Qatar. Similarly, I’m looking for Nepal in England, or at least in an English city. This said, I’m also looking for something directly linked to the city, which is: enjoying the freedom that I am being offered here through this grant, to think and create at my pace. In Qatar too I was able to work thanks to a grant, but that one was awarded by the Centre National des Arts plastiques in Paris, not by Qatar! There are other differences. Here in Nottingham, there are signs that I recognise. In Doha it felt more like an apnoea into absurdity. I did try at the time to gather my thoughts about that feeling and to transpose them into words. For instance, I haven’t taken the bus yet, but the ones I saw on the way to here at least seem to go somewhere. They seem real. Believing so doesn’t require any specific effort. In Doha the roads behave in such a weird way, following such illogical patterns, that their users lack credibility, especially in the scarce public transportation. I saw cemeteries of thousands of buses along the roads. What happened to their passengers? No such questions this time. Finally, here I am not subject to the same paranoia as in Doha, where I was constantly living with the fear of being suspected of illegal activities and of police breaking into my room, confiscating my camera and taking me to jail.
First day at the University. Pleasure to meet up with Jean-Xavier. The day goes by with levity.
Maurice Blanchot. I’ve had L’Espace Littéraire (1) with me for some weeks. I have the intuition that some keys await me inside these pages, or at least a thread to follow that could prompt new reflections for me about what a photograph is and does. But it has remained partly inaccessible so far, not so much because Maurice Blanchot’s object is literature rather than photography, but probably because I lack basis. Coming back from the sandwich shop, Jean-Xavier and I bumped into Yves, a colleague of his whom he introduced to me as being the “Blanchotian” of the School. I pulled the book out of the pocket of my coat and told Yves that I had some questions! A successful introduction, in a way… We agreed on having a Blanchot-based photography-oriented discussion one of these days. We will see where this leads.
Chris Marker. His work was recalled to me from two sides today. By talking with Jean-Xavier about his own research, he made me wish to see Sans Soleil again. And by thinking and reading about the signification of a place, I came to know about Le Dépays (2). A book that I had never heard of, where a text and photographs about Japan are organised in a form of dialogue. This title! A true poetic find. Then there is the author’s preliminary “note to the reader”: “Le texte ne commente pas plus les images que les images n’illustrent le texte. Ce sont deux séries de séquences à qui il arrive bien évidemment de se croiser et de se faire signe, mais qu’il serait inutilement fatigant d’essayer de confronter.” (3). Which is exactly the editorial raison d’être of Le Bec en l’air, and that will also be an important question in my work here, for I am interested in the words of the Nepali people that I am going to meet here as much as in their pictures.
Patricia, my host, taught me in the evening how to receive Radio Nepal on the wifi radio in the kitchen. Listening to Nepali stations when not in Nepal never occurred to me before. I don’t know why. The result is bizarre. Not unpleasant at all, even quite addictive, but creating a disjunction between the senses. The familiar monotony of the elocution of the news presenter, combined with the unique colour of the songs’ harmonies, don’t match with the landscape out of the window. The sight says Nottingham whereas the listening says Kathmandu.
Learning the bus lines.
Earlier this year I came to visit Jean-Xavier for a couple of days to prepare for my residency. We had dinner at the Gurkha Kitchen, one of the Nepali restaurants in town. The food was excellent. The waiter did his job with discretion. Then at the end of the dinner I spoke to him in Nepali. His face bloomed. His whole body language shifted. He was no longer fully a waiter. It was as if he had suddenly been shot out back to Nepal. We spoke about his life. He is from Pokhara. He has been here for nine years. His wife and children are in Nepal, which surprised me. Then he called the owner, who is also the chef, Andeep. Andeep was incredibly busy because there were a lot of customers, but he kindly escaped from his kitchen and spent a few minutes to chat in Nepali and English. He gave me his card and promised to help me when I would be back to meet some of the three to four hundred Nepalis living here.
I called Andeep this morning and then upon his invitation went to his restaurant around five, before the service started. A woman was there. I presented myself. She went and called Andeep, then came back and told me that he would be there soon. Meanwhile another woman offered me a cup of tea. Andeep came a bit later. He welcomed me warmly, offered me sekuwa and wine. Andeep is less than forty years old. He has been in the United Kingdom for more than twenty years. His mother lives in Kathmandu. She is a writer. She writes books and songs for films. The woman who offered me a cup of tea is his wife. Andeep is generous. He works hard. They work hard. He doesn’t know much about photographs but he loves bikes. His wife is a biker too. She travels on the back seat. After the earthquake in 2015, he raffled his beloved Ducati to send money to Nepal and help the survivors. He gave me a copy of the DVD that was produced by a friend of his to tell that very story. This summer he will do a motorcycle tour in the Alps with friends.
On Monday he will call some Nepali friends for lunch so that I can speak to them about my project.
So here it is. My work has started. From the beginning of the conversation with Andeep, questions have arisen in my mind. As often, my primary inclination is to put myself in the other’s place. If some scholar carrying out research about Belgian migrations in Drôme Provençale came home and questioned me, what would I say? Would I care? Would I bother answering? Would I present him my affable or my grumpy side? Then if that person started to talk about photography, about seeing our family albums, about my representations of the elsewhere and of the native land, would I be eager to collaborate? I don’t know. I hope I would but I cannot swear to it. Well, here, am I acting any differently? I am stepping into people’s life without prior notice, bearing expectations that might be perceived as tactless. So what am I asking from the other, that I am unsure I would give to someone asking the same from me?
Andeep has built up something. A position. A role. A means of subsistence for himself, his family, and his staff. I feel the fragility behind the courage and the self-construction. In ten minutes we have already spoken of Mum, Dad, the time he has not had yet to have children, the earthquake, the culture and the rites, the distance with home and family. I am involuntarily shaking his beliefs with my questions. I must be careful not to shake them too hard. I don’t want to harm. I want to understand how you can inhabit the elsewhere (I have long thought: by reproducing the homeland in the elsewhere. But is that true?). I want to understand but not at any cost. I ought to be prudent, slow, listening, respectful, and keep my expectations aside if I happen to deem them improper. On the other hand I also should be confident in the honesty of my approach but I cannot force them to trust me right away. They are happy that a foreigner shows interest in their lives but in the end they are the ones who will make up their mind and decide if they consider that interest sincere.
Andeep introduced me to Lax, one of his cooks. He is from Kapan, near Chabahil, on the road to Bouddhanath. So a visitor, the visitor that I am, came forward and said that he knows where Kapan is. For a brief instant Lax reached a form of happiness the sight of which is one of the greatest rewards of my relationship with Nepal. “Mo dherai kushi”, “I am very happy”, he said. Happy because I, the visitor, knows his language a little and knows his village, and because I have come from far away to let him know. Physically not from as far as if I had come to see him in Kapan, but emotionally, yes. I touched something far inside of him. I recognised him as a Nepali, in an elsewhere where they are invisible.
So “taming a new place”? Not that much any more. It has already evolved into a Nepali version of the place, and as such it is somewhat familiar. Imagery, music, faces: familiar.
There was a fire in the street next to the apartment today. It wreaked havoc in the whole area.
It has been raining since I arrived. A very fine rain, insensitive to gravity. I once attempted to describe that rain in Brumes à venir. The rain here is very much the same. It is the essence of my childhood. I am glad to get back to it. Nothing to do with Nepali rain that weighs on your shoulders, neither with a Provençal rain, swift and only aimed at relieving the sun every now and then. No, here, like in Brussels: an insincere kind of rain, yet hopelessly and efficiently rain – insincere and very honest at once.
So I am at the University. I have an office here that I theoretically share with three other people. I only met one of them, M., a French teacher from Genève who not long ago successfully defended a thesis about the representations of madness in the 19th century. Of course I thought of Jean-Robert Dantou’s work and of our interview. She had not heard about Dantou. She said she would take a look at his book “if she has the time”. My other two office mates are a German teacher from Belarus and someone named Nicolas. Maybe I’ll meet them, too. My office is literally above Jean-Xavier’s. So I’m more often in his than in mine, and we chat.
When I leave home, it is seldom without one or two books by Henri Michaux. This time, god knows why, it is without any. Jean-Xavier is, well, I don’t like to term someone a specialist, so I would simply say that he is a good reader of Michaux and has a deep connection with his work. I don’t know what made me feel like going back to Ecuador today. The difficulty of being elsewhere, maybe? (Elsewhere than where? I wonder. I shall try to come back to that idea). And this sentence probably, that Jean-Xavier submitted to his students as a potential subject for an essay they had to write: “Il y a quelques minutes j’étais large. Mais écrire, écrire : tuer quoi.” (4) Yes of course! Taking a picture is the same, no? So, this sentence. I asked Jean-Xavier if he had any books by Michaux in his office. “No, he said, Michaux is only at home!” Not even a copy of Ecuador? “Ecuador? In fact, that one must be here. Yes. Here it is.” This is how I went back home with Jean-Xavier’s old edition of Ecuador, not the original one, I wouldn’t have dared, but a quite old edition still, maybe the 1968 one, in Gallimard’s “Blanche” collection. Opening the book randomly I read: “Ô navire orgueil, ô capitaine orgueil, passager orgueil, vous qui ne vous mettez pas de plain-pied avec la mer…” (5). I took it as a warning. Pride. This might well be the main obstacle that I will have to overcome during, how should I call it, my research, my residence, my project, my work? I don’t know – during my life here actually. One sees the danger: if I cling to the idea that we actually are this or that (a photographer, a researcher, a cook, a waiter, a biker), and that our interaction is based, thereupon, it will not be long before we consider each other on a scale, separated by a relation of hierarchy. And I don’t like that perspective. So “putting [my]self on a plain footing with the sea” does not mean: going down, nor elevating myself, to attain the level of the other, but to put myself at life level rather than at work level. That’s it.
I am alone. Patricia has left to Spain for the week-end. I will not see Andeep before Monday. Jean-Xavier is busy. This signifies that I am going to have to inhabit the place by myself. Which, well, was the goal. No idea where to start from though. I’m slow on the uptake, as usual. When someone is around, the mere being of that other exempts me of inhabiting the place any wider, or any deeper, than if I were alone. Because the relationship to that other occupies the centre, or the surface, or even, like in the present case, after a very short time proves to be of a significant depth, or at least at an equal level of understanding, and to some extent occupies the ground below the surface.
The same happens sometimes in Kathmandu. Inhabiting my room at photo.circle’s office is easier when there is movement around. I have already experienced being alone there for some days. No one to motivate me to exist or to use the time consistently. I end up loafing around. This slackness lasts what it has to last, then writing generally helps to structure the hours. But before that… Loneliness makes me confront my weaknesses. The first of which being conspicuously that for a moment I don’t know what to do with this much desired and finally attained solitude. I missed it and I craved it when it was not available – a deficiency that coupled with the idea that when solitude would come, I would start, say, reading difficult texts, writing essays, think further about issues, walk in the forest behind the house, etc. But when it comes indeed, quite the contrary, the first thing I do is to mechanically browse the news on the Internet, or check e-mails at an insane pace, switching from one to the other too quickly. Thus switching ideas quickly. Thus loosing ideas quickly. Whereas all I need is concentration, my first inclination is to yield to the facility of a machine of dispersion. Then after some days it gets better.
The main street out of Patricia’s apartment has plenty of hairdressers. Mostly African style but not only. I chose a Turkish one. He had been a truck driver before. He travelled extensively from United Kingdom to Iran at the time. There is a reproduction of a photograph of Hafiz’ tomb in Chiraz in his salon. He was happy to speak about his life and his country.
A morning of writing and picture editing. Next Friday, I shall present my work and my project to the team of the School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies at the University, which hosts my residency. This requires some preparation, a sequence of pictures, and the drawing of a plan.
Writing is difficult. When I thought of this residency before it started, I thought of it as a time to create, of course, but also as a time to think. Obviously it is not yet the time to create because I’m still in the process of taking contacts to build the framework in which creation will hopefully arise. And on the other hand I haven’t found the freedom to think yet. So what about reading? I don’t read either. Guilt is probably prowling around, not very far from the place where I struggle not to be a lazy idiot. I just have to work, that’s it. Because in addition to Friday’s presentation, I have a paper to write for a workshop at the University of Oxford in March, about the Nepali migrations to Qatar. The ideas that I shall expound in both cases are in my mind. They have already been thought. I just need to gather them, to bring them back to the centre and to write them. But since writing is not easy, my mind escapes, wanders away, and neither do I write nor do I think. I hesitate between both. And in order to steer clear of the delicate prospect of having to choose, more often than not I just check e-mails.
Since I somehow completed the plan of my presentation in the morning, I went for a walk towards the city centre this afternoon, moved by the purpose of not surrendering the whole day to the computer. I started to walk in the wrong direction though, and headed to the outskirts of town rather than to the centre. By the time I noticed it, I had already walked a long way. So I took a bus back to town. Then I walked again, more or less aimlessly. Three years ago, when Jean-Xavier invited me to participate in a workshop about the representations of the Silk Road here, on the last day I had had a couple of free hours before going back to the airport. I had walked around in the centre, and had incidentally come across a second hand records shop. This is where I bought my copy of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Heaven Up Here. So today I eventually set as an arbitrary goal to locate this shop again. It was in a passage, if I recall. I searched in vain but I walked. And while walking I wondered in what kind of place I was doing so. What is a city? What does it mean to inhabit it? What is the infrastructure made for, except to meet the needs of a population that came here to utilise it because it is there? Is a city more than a large scale shopping mall? I found myself being a walking question.
Inhabiting a place is not a trivial issue for me. It often keeps me awake. Inhabiting Brussels, that we left 16 years ago, the Drôme where we settled then, or Kathmandu, is a question that I cannot but consider from the point of view of a foreigner. Each of these three places is or has become an elsewhere to me. What does inhabiting an elsewhere mean? The elsewhere that I now call home will never completely be home because I wasn’t born there. The elsewhere that I called home for 28 years has ceased to be nameable because I left it. Kathmandu, in short, acts probably as a fantasised home and will ever be so and will never be more than that.
So when thinking about what it means for Nepalis to inhabit a labour camp in Qatar or proper accommodation in Nottingham, my thoughts are fuelled by this personal reality. I am wondering what their questions are with regard to inhabiting. For instance, my life as an expatriate in France is not tinged with an effort to keep a link alive with Belgium as a cultural body. Of course I do nurture the relationship with parents and friends in Belgium, and yes I am influenced, if not reassured, by “things” from Belgium (by the work of Ostend painter Léon Spilliaert, say), but this is not so because they are Belgian, or in Belgium. This is so because of love or because there is a common territory of understanding. Even drinking a Trappist beer while cooking supper is a matter of taste, maybe of habit, but not of Belgian culture. Wouldn’t any other way of seeing that link with the native country fall within exoticism? So when Andeep says: “You cannot renounce your culture”, does he mean: the exotic dimension of your culture? Andeep is a biker. He has a beautiful Harley Davidson tattoo on his forearm. He has a beautiful Harley Davidson bike, too. Harley Davidson bikes are not much a part of Nepali culture as far as I can tell. So does “not renouncing your culture” mean: keep traditions alive (celebrating Dashain, for instance)? And to do it out of respect for Mum and Dad, or just because it provides a structure, a frame, a reason for an otherwise unintelligible accident – and apart from that do anything you want? If it is so, isn’t there a chance that in one generation or two, when Mum and Dad won’t be there anymore, traditions will lose strength, then disappear, and therefore, have they already begun to disappear? So why obey them any longer? Why not renounce them right now, since the latent disappearance process has set off already? Because the lack of frame is terrifying? I don’t know. I certainly have no firm answer to these questions. I just let them go through my mind and I catch what I can. I hope that I will be able to discuss them with Nepalis here as I did last year with Prasiit Sthapit.
This morning I got a message from Mica in Kathmandu, in which he says: “Next week I go back to Rolwaling for one and a half month”. The sudden awareness of the distance between our two realities was brutal. I’m alone in an apartment in a city I don’t know, trying to understand what Martin Heidegger means by “inhabiting” and what Maurice Blanchot means by “reading”, while waiting for a Nepali exile chef to introduce me to his friends, and Mica is going back to Rolwaling… This is a gap at the edge of which I was not prepared to find myself. Mica in Rolwaling in February means: forty-five days of nearly pure solitude at an altitude of four thousands meters with the snow and an old sherpa couple as sole companions, in a stone shack with an iron stove as a sole material luxury. Oh, I think the shack now has window panes, which was not the case some winters ago. I am happy for him but I crave being with him.
I thought about a phrase from Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit when walking downtown, which I still know by heart:
“Un autre pays, d’autres gens autour de soi, agités d’une façon un peu bizarre, quelques petites vanités en moins, dissipées, quelque orgueil qui ne trouve plus sa raison, son mensonge, son écho familier, et il n’en faut pas davantage, la tête vous tourne, et le doute vous attire, et l’infini s’ouvre rien que pour vous, un ridicule petit infini et vous tombez dedans…
Le voyage c’est la recherche de ce rien du tout, de ce petit vertige pour couillons.…”
Ralph Manheim’s 1983 translation of this utterly Celinian vision of the activity of displacing oneself to an elsewhere for the sake of one’s pleasure goes like this:
“A different country, different people carrying on rather strangely, the loss of a few little vanities, of a certain pride that has lost its justification, the lie it’s based on, its familiar echo – no more is needed, your head swims, doubt takes hold of you, the infinite opens up just for you, a ridiculously small infinite, and you fall into it…
Travel is the search for this nothing, this bit of intoxication for numbskulls…” (6)
I wonder if there have been other attempts to transpose the Voyage in English.
Then my mind wandered to Mica going to Rolwaling, and from Céline to Hugh Swift, to his 1980s classic Trekker’s Guide in the Himalaya and Karakoram (7), and to my first immersion in these mountains in the 1990s, which marked for me the emergence of a totally new dimension of being on Earth. Another excerpt of the unpublished narrative I referred to on the first day of this diary is set at Pilgrims bookstore in Kathmandu and reads: “One can still find Hugh Swift’s guidebook here, out-of-date, unsellable, magnificent. Nothing has changed: neither the place nor the height of the pile. And to think that at the time, I walked for weeks with this doorstop in the side pocket of my trousers, which eroded my leg! I have got two copies of it now. Owning only one, I guess I was feeling… insecure? I opened a third one. A tumult. A sinking. And in the same time, an elevation of something occurred. An eruption. The book was quivering in my hands. Then all of a sudden it swallowed me, I see no other way of putting it. I was sucked down through a hole. Only my body was left. I bounced back on who knows what, then got back up in my shell, loaded with quaint, scented and luminous frayed memories. The brightness of my first pepper tea, the taste of the red rice, the flavour of the dal soup, the dry air of the altitude, the detours through an enchanting temple, through a still virgin lake, “if you have three days ahead of you, walk up to the hamlet which dominates the lake, you will be able to taste an unforgettable yoghurt”, the dust of the hay, the ladders cut from the trunks, the weight of the bag upon the shoulders, the smell inside the tent, which steams from May on, the infinite novelty, the infinite beauty of everything…”
More recently, in a text about Eric Valli and Diane Summers’ Shadow Hunters, in a passage about another book of them, Dolpo, I went back to it again:
“Along with Olivier Föllmi’s first pictures and late Hugh Swift’s prose, the images of this book have founded my attraction for that part of Asia. It is in their light that I learned how to pack my bag. Still today, Dolpo’s cover photograph, Olivier Föllmi’s Zanskar – or the hand drawn maps that punctuate Swift’s book, like so many promises, partially encrypted by the abstraction of the line but that rest with each of us to decipher – all that, inevitably, fills me with nostalgia for the time of my first travels. A time that has passed too fast – but fortunately that has passed, because I paid my share to it, lavishly, when it came to heaviness and opacity. A time, in truth, that I sometimes would be eager to start afresh, without a camera – and were this to fall to me, I hope it be after having learned something on the road, and above all after having seriously impoverished myself.”
This is where Mica’s message took me today.
Sunday roast and Chimay bleue at the Sir John Borlase Warren pub, Canning circus.
I watched Andeep’s DVD in my office in the morning. Poignant images of panic when the earth started shaking. I lived it but had never seen it. Then the story of his generosity. Back at the Gurkha Kitchen for lunch.
Warmly welcomed by Andeep. He did call some friends to join us today, but all were working. So he told me: we are there. You can start your project with my staff and with me.
We watched a lot of pictures on his phone. A combination of pictures from Nepal and from England. Bikes everywhere. Friendship. Generosity. He commented on the images. I did not record our conversation. I was just happy to listen and to watch.
Dalbhat with the staff. Them, eating with their hands like at home. Total change of style, of behaviour, totally different way of occupying in the space, in comparison with when on duty. Excellent food. All the staff members live here. Andeep set up rooms upstairs for them. Very Nepali. I was surprised. It made me think of Qatar again, and of the traditional village structure in Nepal. I wonder how other Nepalis live here, and if some of them live in family houses. Because if having your room above your workplace is to a certain extent convenient, it also increases your invisibility among the society in which you live.
Andeep insists on me going on Facebook. This is the best way of keeping in touch with the Nepali community, he says. I replied what I always do in such cases: I can’t, because my dad threatened me of no longer considering me as his son if I did so. This is my dad’s sense of humour. But it is an efficient way to cut a conversation off that I am reluctant to have. Nevertheless, I told Andeep that in case I go, I’ll go with a Nepali name. I asked him to find me one.
Back at the Gurkha Kitchen for lunch. I can now go in and out of the kitchen when I want when the restaurant is not too busy. Andeep gives me curries to taste. Then, as it was planned, we went downtown for a drink with Lax.
Lax has been working with Andeep for ten years. This is no place to narrate his private life, though, so I’ll refrain from posting my thoughts about our conversation. He spoke to me in Nepali the whole time. We drank a couple of glasses of wine. He was happy to speak and I was happy to listen to him and to watch pictures on his phone. Among the many photographs, there was a picture of an uncle of his who has been living in London for more than forty years and can no longer write in Nepali. This says something about how you inhabit an elsewhere. It reminds me of this grandmother in Nyons some years ago who asked me to teach her Dutch because her daughter was living in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband and their kids couldn’t speak French, so this woman had no means of communication with her grand-children. The concept of culture evolves from one generation to another. But that happens only if children are born in the country of expatriation. So far, here, it is not the case. I would have thought that people would be more eager to really and definitively settle down here than in Qatar.
I asked Lax if I could record our conversation, just to keep a trace of it. He said: yes, but we will do that tomorrow at the Gurkha Kitchen. Which means: no. His pretence: the pub where we were was too noisy. Which was true. Nonetheless it was a pretence. I might advocate slowness but haste is constantly tempting. Then we took the tramway to Beeston where some of his friends manage a pub there, The Commercial Inn. An English pub. No outward sign of the Nepaliness of the place. Once inside, yes: the owner is Nepali, the staff is Nepali, the menu is Nepali, and Lax knows everybody. I was welcomed, fed and given drinks like a guest in a Nepali family. Momos were as tasty as the ones I ate in a street of Patan four days after the earthquake, cooked by a street vendor who had gotten a gas bottle through mysterious ways. Spoken a lot in Nepali with all the staff members. They are in permanent contact with Kathmandu. For none of them is it an option to break that link.
I also have the increasing feeling that they stay among themselves. It is less true of Andeep, who has many English friends here, and knows people from all around the world, probably thanks to his passion for bikes. I’ve always thought that motorbikes were more than a mode of transport, and that being a biker is an identity in itself, that exceeds nationality. But for the others…
A few weeks ago on the radio, I heard the account of a man whose parents had fled Spain during the civil war and, like many others, had taken refuge in France. That son became French. He is aware of his Spanish origins, but he is French. It is not that his Spanish roots are like a ghost, but they are at the background. And France is the foreground, the forefront of action and thought. For Nepalis here, I don’t have the impression that it is so. Nepal remains the foreground, the main landscape of thought. And England is a landscape that is almost the wrong one, always inferior to what they would expect the landscape to be.
This confirms my current intuition about the title of this project. Interestingly enough, the chef who prepared the momos I ate in the pub asked me what was the title of my project. This is the first time I am asked this. And stupidly enough, I didn’t dare to tell him. Maybe because this title is still not the right one. Maybe because a certain condescension had me think that he would not understand it. I don’t know. What I know is that figures are there, faces with something behind (humanity, fatigue, hope) but I sense the absence of the Nepali landscape behind what they show, what they do, what they say. It is true even for Andeep, despite motorbikes: Nepal is the landscape.
I think that this is important. I am aware that when a foreigner comes in these solitary lives and is interested in their stories, and speaks their language, I mean for other purposes than transmitting an order and assessing the quality of their submissiveness to this order, the doors will open. It would be inappropriate to utilise it as a tool to serve my own ends. It has to be a human adventure. This raises the question of the legitimacy of the idea to work with their images, and at least of what I am entitled to do with them. It shouldn’t be something that is disconnected from them. That would be impossible. They understand my questions about their motivations for going abroad, and they want to help me, but my work will be valid provided it is done with great respect.
The news today is that Andeep gave me a Nepali name. I will be Anand: the happy one, the blissful one, the one who is in peace (thus echoing my first name’s root, “Friede”, which means “peace” in German), an my surname will be Kila, “the nail”, “le clou” in French). No more excuse for not going on Facebook, since it will be someone else’s going. Furthermore, the name Andeep has the same root, Anand. So we have the same name. He is very moved by this little connection. Me too!
From Monday the restaurant will be closed for lunch. It will only open for dinner and on Sundays for the afternoon buffet. They will celebrate this by having lunch all together in a Chinese restaurant downtown. I’m invited!
I briefly met the German teacher from Belarus with whom I also share my office.
I had an appointment with another Nepali man that I met, H., but he let me down. Alcohol. From Kathmandu to Doha and Doha to Nottingham, nothing changes. In countless cases, wages are converted into inebriation before they can be turned into remittances.
This morning I presented my work in front of a small group of professors of the School of Cultures, Languages and Area studies. Jean-Xavier was there, Patricia, too. Yves, the Blanchotian. As well as the School’s director and a few others. I could not read my plan because we had to shut the blinds and turn off the lights to allow the audience to properly see the projection of the photographs. So I spoke without notes and narrated the story of half of my life in 35 minutes. They all were looking like they had travelled far away.
Writing again the rest of the day.
I went for the Sunday buffet at the Gurkha Kitchen. Andeep is definitely a very good cook. Dietary speaking, the story of that lunch is unrepeatable. From the human point of view, we had more conversations with him and Mukta, his wife. I had to adjust to the energy of the moment, and to learn how to find the right distance to their life on a busy day. It is slightly different.
Andeep made a phone call to Tara, the founder of the Nepali association here. I knew that this association existed. Being in touch with them would be a good gateway to the community. Andeep does not have the time to be involved in their activities but they know each other and I can call Tara on his behalf when I want. That is good news.
In the evening we often have long conversations with Patricia, about life, art, University, and the links between the three. These are enjoyable, open, broad-minded moments. We cook together too. I am surprised how little time academics have to think about their research, for they must commit to plenty of other duties, like marking copies, sorting out internal issues, finding and adapting their position in the political game of the University, carrying out administrative tasks, preparing courses, and teaching of course, but this is the best part of it, I guess… And if someone thinks a bit further than their very own specialised issue and wants, say, to explore what other disciplines have to propose about their subject, how can they find the time for that? They cannot. And yet, for the people I exchange views with every day, they are not lacking ideas to widen the scope of their research.
M., the French teacher, was there this morning in our office. Distance broken thanks to Michel Foucault, whose work I approached though a recent issue of the journal Critique, and thanks to Ervin Goffman, who also worked on madness. I had never heard of Ervin Goffman until this weekend, when I read an interview of philosopher Ruwen Ogien in Libération (8), in which he says that Goffman is his favourite anthropologist. In fact Ruwen Ogien speaks mostly of his own behaviour towards the disease that affects him today, in terms that remind me of what Ivan Illich said of medicine (9), especially this idea that when submitted to the medical institution, the patient is dying of having his disease cured. But this is another story. Well, not as much as that actually, for one might easily argue the following: what do the Nepali migrants do by working abroad, if not “dying (far from home) of having their disease (poverty) cured”? I read a bit about Goffman and learned that in the late 1950s he spent months living among about seven thousands inmates suffering from mental disorder at Saint Elizabeths psychiatric hospital in Washington. Then today, in the current issue of the Literary Review at Patricia’s apartment, I read a critique (10) of an essay about Ezra Pound focusing on the poet’s madness and his incarceration at the same hospital of St Elizabeths between 1945 and 1958. I had never heard about that hospital before either. Then twice in two days. I don’t know what it means. We will see. Maybe just that it is time to read these authors.
Last week Jean-Xavier taught his French language students a lesson on Sylvain Tesson’s Dans les forêts de Sibérie (11). I would have loved to attend it because I have a problem with that book. I tried to read it some years ago but I had to give up, I proved to be unable to fully accept its argument. A planned parenthesis in a rather social life, equipped with loads of books and vodka, a satellite phone, solar panels, and with a fair amount of guarantees that things at home will fundamentally have stayed at their right place when the parenthesis will be closed, it can be seen as a lot of things, but when sold as hermitism, something does not ring true. A hermit is a hermit, not someone on holiday. There is nothing wrong with isolating yourself in a hut in a cold country for six months then going back home if it pleases you but it should be named as what it is: a distraction, albeit of an extreme sort. Except that you might better know your own limits at the end of the semester, I fail to conceive how the validity of the lessons you learn during such an experience can extend beyond the circumstances of its realisation. In particular, I don’t believe that having undergone this isolation entitles the author to deliver philosophical precepts about what solitude means, as if they were applicable in any context. Solitude? Of a perfunctory kind here, I believe. A solitude of which you have decided the expiry date and that will be followed by a return to whatever normality your life was made of, it is nothing but a luxury, and it is in the light of this state of luxury that whatever proposition the author draws from this temporary and chosen recreation of his life should be read.
I will not affirm that I know what solitude is: I don’t. But I have approached other people’s solitude sometimes, and it is of a different sort. The solitude of a Nepali worker in a Qatari labour camp, the solitude of his wife annihilated by her in-laws, the solitude of a homeless person sleeping on the pavement of a megalopolis in the winter, the solitude of the elderly people in the Western world… These people will rarely transpose their experiences into words if they are not invited to, but I would rather listen to them than to Sylvain Tesson when it comes to understanding what solitude means.
The other day I saw a video on the website of Le Monde (only a few seconds of it, actually, because it made me feel claustrophobic) about Abraham Poincheval, an artist that was about to shut himself into a huge stone egg for a week (12). I don’t see much difference between that and Tesson’s experience.
Having said this, I am sure that Jean-Xavier’s own analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of this book must be much more incisive than the above, and would help me to better structure my thought. Sadly I missed his lesson, since I spent most of the day with Lax in town. I had asked Jean-Xavier if I could attend this week’s follow-up to his lesson. He agreed, and added that it would be a good idea if in the second part I could give a lecture in French about photography and travelling, based on my book L’Usure du Monde. Flattered, of course, although I have never done this before. I didn’t know where to start. So I simply prepared a short edit of the body of work, that I will project and comment. That’s it. I hope that it will be enough. “And now it’s all for Tuesday morning” (back to Ecuador, again).
I found the record shop I was looking for, by chance, but it was closed.
There were about 15 students. A nice group. The lesson begun with a presentation by two of them about some key topics in Sylvain Tesson’s book (solitude, alcohol, literature…).
Among the quotes on which they based their reflections, this one disturbed me: “Vanité de la photo. La réalité s’écrase contre les écrans. Un monde obsédé par l’image se prive de goûter aux mystérieuses émanations de la vie. Aucun objectif photographique ne captera les réminiscences qu’un paysage déploie en nos cœurs.” Which I found to be truncated. The full quote reads: “Le soir, le soleil perce, la neige prend une teinte d’acier. Les aplats blancs brillent avec l’éclat du mercure. J’essaie de prendre une photo de ce phénomène mais l’image ne rend rien du rayonnement. Vanité de la photo. L’écran réduit le réel à sa valeur euclidienne. Il tue la substance des choses, en compresse la chair. La réalité s’écrase contre les écrans. Un monde obsédé par l’image se prive de goûter aux mystérieuses émanations de la vie. Aucun objectif photographique ne captera les réminiscences qu’un paysage déploie en nos cœurs. Et ce qu’un visage nous envoie d’ions négatifs ou d’invites impalpables, quel appareil le pourrait saisir ?” (13).
I find these propositions especially stupid and dangerous.
Dangerous because they lean on a blatant reality: the World (not the whole World obviously, but at least the one in which Tesson lived before retreating in his shack, as well as the one where his readers live, and a larger World also that certainly reaches far beyond these two narrow spheres), the World is to a great extent obsessed by images. I would not venture to raise any objection to that. But from that evidence, the author draws ready-to-believe truths that rub the readers the right way, and appeal to their penchant for facility rather than to their analytical ability.
Then the ideas put forward by Tesson seem to me stupid for two reasons. First because he reduces photographs to their digital occurrences on screens. Well, believe it or not, there are still a few people who enjoy looking at pictures printed on paper – and millions who have no choice, because printed pictures are everywhere in the cities, on the sides of country roads, on the promotional brochures that fill our mailboxes, or in the newspapers that we choose to read (some of them illustrating or widening the meaning of our readings, others polluting them). Secondly, these aphorisms are stupid because, from Ansel Adams to Thibaut Cuisset and from Richard Avedon to Richard Dumas, they deny the whole history of the medium in no time and without a single argument. Sylvain Tesson might be visually illiterate, and maybe so much that he has never experienced the slightest emotion while regarding a photograph of a landscape or a portrait, yet this ought to be nothing but his own concern, and in no instance is that a reason to proclaim that photography is bereft of any means to accede to our hearts. As far as I am concerned, it suffices to open a few photography books to persuade myself of the contrary. And I am not the only one.
What I believe though is that when you have nothing to say but take the picture anyway, that picture will be empty. But if you have something to say, it does not mean that the picture will be filled with something. You still need the right tool, the right language.
It makes me think of Le Retour Imaginaire, by Atiq Rahimi (14), when Atiq goes back to Kabul in 2002 for the first time since he took refuge in France in 1984. He carries along plenty of photographic equipment. His ambition if to take pictures of the wounds of his city, and through them, of his own scars. As early as when he leaves the airport, a dialogue commences between Atiq and a porter, who carries his luggage and incidentally also bears his first name:
« – Par quoi commencer mes prises de vues ?
– Par le regard.
Et ce jour-là nous ne fîmes que regarder. Et blessures nous vîmes (…)
– Si tu veux que tes photos te renouent avec ton passé, laisse tomber tes appareils. Ce qu’il te faut c’est un appareil qui sache voir. » (15)
Jean-Xavier’s lesson was too short! I liked how he suggested the artificiality of Tesson’s project without forcing his students to agree with his opinion, but rather by giving them the tools to make up their mind by themselves. But I measured how much I missed the first part. Anyway he is going to publish a paper about the book soon.
His students were quiet and attentive to my lecture. I think that they were happy to watch photographs. One of them asked me about the dangers of the voyage. I showed them the picture of Marie and Olga with Sakandar and his weapon in a garden around Kabul… This is still a very strange photograph for me to look at.
This morning I met Tara, the founder and former president of the local association of non-resident Nepalis. He had invited me to his house at 9 am. I walked, it was not far. He let me in and had me sit in a sofa in his living room. There was a large television screen in front of us. The BBC was on. He turned off the volume.
We spoke in Nepali. I told him about my research. He let me speak and listened carefully. Then it was his turn to speak. His delivery was swift and his voice was low, requiring all my concentration to be comprehended. But his presence was that of a quite and poised man. Maybe even a little bit subdued, in the beginning. In fact, as I would soon understand, he is someone who works hard and who is fully dedicated to shoulder his responsibilities towards his family. This burden sometimes gives rise to a certain anxiety. Yet I got the impression that he slowly felt more relaxed and gained confidence in me.
After about fifteen minutes, other people started to come in. Soon they were six or seven of them. Either I had not understood, or Tara had omitted to mention it, but he had actually invited several members of the local community to meet me. I appreciated this thoughtfulness. From that moment on, the conversation happened mainly between me and one man among the newcomers, who spoke and listened on behalf of all the others. His name is G. His English is good, which allowed us to go a bit deeper in some details. I explained him the story of my relationship to Nepal, my work in Qatar with the Nepali migrant workers, as well as the origins and the ambition of the current residency. I insisted on the role that I believe is played by family photo albums in the migratory experience. I answered his questions.
When everything was clear, he declared solemnly that I was most welcome in the Nepali community of Nottingham, and that he and his friends would do whatever is in their power to facilitate my research and contribute to its success. They like my project very much, he said, on the one hand because they are touched by the fact that a foreigner shows concern for their individual stories, as well as for the fate of their country as a place that its citizens cannot but flee if they want to earn their life and feed their family – and on the other hand, he sees in this project a possible anthropological tool for themselves to better understand the experience of displacement that they are living through.
He praised my inclination for slowness. Allowing myself the time to meet the Nepalis and to listen to their stories, refraining from taking pictures straight away, postponing the act of taking until the act of being has been lived as intensely as possible: according to G., this is be the only way for me to get to see what I want to see, and to obtain answers to my questions, i.e.: why did they leave Nepal? What kind of links have they kept with Nepal? What relationships do they have with Nepalis here? And with the locals? In short: how do they inhabit this elsewhere?
I got the confirmation today that the very concept of elsewhere evolves from one generation to another. I met children of Nepali migrants who no longer can write Nepali. I even met one teenage girl who can understand and speak her national language only to a certain extent and has only been once in Nepal. I assume that for them, Nepal is soon going to be more of an elsewhere than England has been for their parents. Tara explained that he had organised Nepali classes for the children at some point, but that it he had to stop because it was too difficult to have kids attend them regularly.
G. left the meeting around ten. We talked with the rest of the group, about history, about Nepali politics, about the places I visited in their country. Then they also went one by one to their respective workplaces, in restaurants, mostly in the outskirts of town.
Soon I was alone again with Tara. In fact he had planned to spend the best part of the day with me, until around four, when he too goes to his own restaurant. He told me the journey of his life. I did not record his words. If any bit of our conversation ever needs to be utilised in my work, my memory will hopefully have sieved it and retained these bits. As I already said, this diary is not meant to go into the details of people’s private life, neither Lax’s, nor Tara’s nor anyone else’s. But we spoke a lot.
At a certain point he disappeared then came back from somewhere in the house with a plastic bag full of stacks of pictures and old plastic albums, exactly like I have seen in virtually every house I lived in in Nepal, and that I was hoping that the migrants would have carried along with them here.
There were incredibly beautiful and moving photographs in this bag. I saw a deeply poetic picture of a woman dancing taken during a ceremony given to appease the souls of the ones who died too early. Many pictures of his wife as well, at different stages of their life together. The most impressing was that he knew all the stories, all the names of the persons who are represented on these photos, from relatives to former colleagues in the Gulf, even if they are blurred or only appear far away in the background. He worked in many countries, always in restaurants. England is but the current stop-off of his migratory journey, which has already taken him through Oman, Dubai, India, Pakistan and Qatar. What he enjoyed the most was working in a five star hotel in Dubai. But he could not raise children there. That is the reason why he came to England: to give a good education to his kids.
While I was looking at the pictures, Tara prepared a dalbhat. Then we went to pick up his wife at her workplace and came back home to eat all together, with two of his daughters who speak Nepali with a charming British accent. They also knew a bit of French and German and were happy to practise. Then Tara dropped me at the University. I thanked him warmly for the way he welcomed me. He said: don’t say thank you, we are grateful to you for visiting us.
Among the people I met these days, some came alone, but some settled down here and committed to fully play the game of expatriation. One of my questions was: to what extent does this involvement allow them to integrate in England? From what I could feel since I had arrived, I had an idea about it. An idea that many conversations confirmed. Beyond the surface of a proper English life (house, car, job, school, taxes, paperworks, health insurance), their migratory story and daily life are the same as for someone who came without his family and looks like being in transit. Because whatever they do is, ultimately, done for someone in Nepal. It falls on them to look after their family at home. The money that is not swallowed by the mortgages or the daily expenditures is to be sent to them. So finally, whatever their rootedness in England might be, they remain an invisible population. Except for Andeep, because bikes are made to be visible. But he too has and wants to look after his family over there.
The stories are always stories of individuals who find themselves being governed by their family. There no such thing as “an individual” in Nepal. A Nepali individual is bound to abide by a set of immutable rules that are enforced by the group but that no tangible nor superior authority has ever enacted, that exist by themselves, in themselves, immanent, thus presenting no one to refer to nor to rise up against in case of misunderstanding or disagreement, and in the name of which the deprivation of their personal freedom, the atrophy of their private sphere and the utilisation of their very life in favour of the group are systematically and eternally organised. Thinking about solitude with Tesson? Here it is. The solitude of some Nepalis is of such a harsh kind that it effectively deserves to be named so. A life as an absentee of your life.
I said goodbye to Jean-Xavier and to the people who were there, until next time.
Seen on the bus going back to Patricia’s place: a man writing in the mist of condensation on the window: “12 x 5 =”, then pausing, then writing : “60”, then pausing, then writing : “112 x 5 =”. That’s it. He did not write the answer.
(1) Maurice Blanchot, L’espace littéraire (Paris: Gallimard, 1955).
Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989).
(2) Chris Marker, Le Dépays (Paris: Herscher, 1982). It has become a highly collectible item nowadays. But it is available online here : https://chrismarker.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/LeDpaysChrisMarker1982-reduced.pdf.
(3) I haven’t found a published translation of Le Dépays, so this is my try for this quote: “The text does not comment the images, nor do the images illustrate the text. These are two series of sequences that evidently happen to meet and wave to each other. But it would be uselessly wearying to attempt to confront them to each other.”
(4) Henri Michaux, Ecuador (Paris: Gallimard, 1929), p. 16.
Henri Michaux, Ecuador: a Travel Journal, trans. Robin Magowan (London: Owen, 1970), p. 18. Robin Magowan’s version of the quote reads: “A few minutes ago I felt huge. But to write, write. To kill, right?”.
(5) Michaux, Ecuador, p. 14.
Michaux, Ecuador: a Travel Journal, p. 16.
Robin Magowan’s version of the quote reads: “Oh, ship-pride, oh, captain-pride, passenger-pride, you who refuse to put yourselves on a plain footing with the sea…”.
(6) Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Voyage au bout de la nuit (Paris: Denoël, 1932), p. 267.
Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the end of the night, trans. Ralph Manheim (New York: New Directions, 1983), p. 185.
(7) Hugh Swift, Trekker’s guide in the Himalaya and Karakoram (San Fransisco: Sierra Club Books, 1982).
(8) Cécile Daumas, “interview with Ruwen Ogien : ‘La maladie est une bouffonnerie sociale où soignants et patients jouent un rôle’”, Libération, 10 February 2017, http://www.liberation.fr/debats/2017/02/10/ruwen-ogien-la-maladie-est-une-bouffonnerie-sociale-ou-soignants-et-patients-jouent-un-role_1547717.
(9) Ivan Illich, Medical Nemesis (London: Calder & Boyars, 1974).
(10) Robert Crawford, “Voice from the Asylum”, Literary Review, February 2017, https://literaryreview.co.uk/voice-from-the-asylum.
(11) Sylvain Tesson, Dans les forêts de Sibérie, (Paris: Gallimard, 2011).
Sylvain Tesson, The Consolations of the Forest: : Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga, trans. Linda Coverdale (New York : Rizzoli Ex Libris, 2013).
(12) “Un artiste français va vivre une semaine entière enfermé dans un œuf en pierre”, Le Monde, 7 February 2017, http://www.lemonde.fr/arts/video/2017/02/07/un-artiste-francais-va-vivre-une-semaine-entiere-enferme-dans-un-uf-en-pierre_5075972_1655012.html.
(13) Linda Coverdale’s translation of the full quote reads: “Towards evening, the slanting sunlight gives the snow a steely glint. The flat white tints now gleam like mercury. I try to take a photo of this phenomenon, but the images catches nothing of its brilliance. The vanity of photos. The frame reduces the real to its Euclidian value, killing the substance of things, compressing their flesh. Reality gets squashed against the screen. A world obsessed with images can’t taste the mysterious emanations of life. No photographic lens will capture the memories unfolded by a landscape in our hearts. And what a face sends us in the way of negative ions or impalpable invitations – what camera could show them to us?”.
(14) Atiq Rahimi, Le Retour imaginaire (Paris: P.O.L, 2005).
(15) I haven’t found a published translation of Le Retour imaginaire, so this is my try for this quote:
“– How to begin taking pictures?
– By looking…
And that day we did nothing but looking. And the wounds we saw (…)
– If you want your pictures to link yourself again with your past, drop your cameras. What you need is a camera that be able to see.”
Photograph: At the Gurkha Kitchen, Nottingham, England, February 2017.
Kindly proofread by Alisha Sett.
The e-kus created during the residence are available online in the Stories section of this website.