Filmmaker Achal Mishra took a liking to photographyb back in 2010, when he was in school. However, 2017 proved to be life-changing, for he took his first trip to Leh, and he was left awestruck.
“Leh is very different. The landscape here is not something you see everyday. When I used to do photography in my home town Dharbhanga (Bihar), I would try to find photographic beauty or an image in ordinary things, what I see everyday or encounter everyday. And that’s a very different thing where you try to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. However, in Leh, it became the entirely opposite. Here, you have extraordinary all around, and now you have to make images in that,” says Mishra, talking to us at the recently concluded The Himalayan Film Festival (THFF), where his film Dhuin (2022) was screened.
Going down memory lane, Mishra recalls the time when he first visited this region purely as a tourist. “I used to travel around in taxis and go whenever the driver is taking me and click pictures. But slowly, I started understanding the nuances. I remember someone telling me how easy it is to take pictures in Leh-Ladakh. The landscape is such that even if you accidentally press the shutter, you’ll end up with a beautiful image,” he quips.
That being said, with each click came a new challenge — to record something that is yet untapped in a land of immense beauty like Leh-Ladakh. “Since Ladakh has been photographed extensively, I needed these six-seven years to arrive at an image different from the kind of photography that’s already been done. When you mention Ladakh, you think of blue skies, brown mountains and wide open roads. So, the challenge here has always been to find something new, to find a fresh way of looking at the same mountains probably,” he explains, adding, “Initially when I used to come here, I used to shoot a lot, maybe a 1,000 images, and from those, I’d probably choose just one or two best ones. It’s always like that because when you’re shooting, you are just responding to what’s there in front of you, which is so magnificent and sublime. But when you’re looking back at it, you realise it’s there and has been photographed already, so what new are you adding to the conversation. So, it has taken a lot of time.”
To counter this, Mishra repeatedly clicks an object over tyime, to add new dimensions. “I follow this photography practice… like in Dharbhanga, I have photographed a tree over a period of time, since 2016, so I have 20-25 pictures of that tree in different seasons. So, coming to Leh for this long now, I started doing this here as well. And I’ve shot same locations here in winters, in autumn and during spring,” says Mishra, who prefers to call this an “on-going journey” and don’t think he has shot his best in Ladakh yet.
“I can’t say I’m even creatively satisfied. It will keep going on. But I have a lot of fun while taking photos here. It’s intense and challenging, but I enjoy it. I remember once I wanted to capture a certain light, and I went to the top of Khardung La for that. It was March and I reached there an hour and a half before sunset. It was damn cold, I was with my gloved etc, and waited for the sun to set to get that light, but I had fun while doing it, so nothing else mattered,” the Gamak Ghar (2019) director tells us.
Adding a new chapter in his photography journey, Mishra, as a participating filmmaker at the THFF this year, also conducted a workshop where he guided 20 local photographers, and final clicks by five participants selected by Mishra were also displayed at the festival.
“We did the workshop it in a village called Phey, which is lower than Leh in terms of altitude. I wanted the participants to not just sit in a classroom and listen to me talk. I wanted to take them out, and photograph the surroundings for as long as possible. So, we had a classroom session for two-three hours, and then we all set out to click pictures. And Phey has a nice mix of an old village, a new village and then there’s a river and greenery, which is much more than what you see in Leh,” Mishra tells us, further stating that since all of them were aspiring Ladakhi photographers, “It was very important to for them to understand and arrive at images, which are their own because all they see is pictures of Ladakh clicked by outsiders and photographers like us, tourists. So, they needed to understand their own gaze and vision, and act on it.”