Documenting a Disappearing Way of Life

praveen-chaudhry-03I am always glad to have an opportunity to share the amazing variety of work our faculty produce at FIT. We have such an opportunity in the campus showing of Praveen Chaudhry’s moving photography exhibit, Invisible Nomads of the Himalayas: A Life Caught in Turmoil. At a faculty convocation last year, I asked Chaudhry to share photographs of his travels with the nomadic tribespeople in the mountainous areas of China and India, where political and military forces have nearly eradicated the nomadic way of life that has for centuries been the center of production of cashmere and pashmina. The stories he told were as chilling as they were enlightening.

“All indigenous cultures are under enormous pressure and many are disappearing,” said Professor Chaudhry, a political scientist who is a member of our Social Sciences department. “The nomadic cultures I travelled with will all be gone in 10 years. But these are remarkable people. They are culturally significant, especially for anyone interested in the study of diversity and cooperation. These Buddhist shepherds and Muslim weavers have been cooperating in peace in the harshest of environments to make pashmina for hundreds of years.”

Professor Chaudhry describes his work as “visual anthropology,” and his success in taking meaningful images is, he says, a result of living and travelling with his subjects for months at a time, often through arduous conditions. None of the photos are staged because he lived among these communities long enough so that people were comfortable with him and allowed him inside their personal worlds.

Professor Chaudhry took a photography course on campus and credits the photography department for helping him develop his considerable skill. He hopes to publish the photographs as a book—and I certainly hope he will.

The exhibit, which has been shown at galleries here in the U.S. as well as in India and Mexico, is on view in the lobby of the Marvin Feldman building through February 26. Professor Chaudhry will give a talk and slide presentation of his work on Wednesday, February 24, at 6:00 pm in the Katie Murphy Amphitheater. The talk is sponsored jointly by the Presidential Scholars program and the dean of the School of Liberal Arts.