by Ankita Jain

“Photography is my passion, not a profession,” says photographer Gautam Dhimal. The words echo through the life-size images displayed in his ongoing photo exhibition titled, Himalayan Fashion Adventure.
The exhibition which also culminates into a book is a series of mesmerising pictures of his latest fashion shoot in 2019 against the stark backdrop of Mustang. Gautam works with some of the most famous fashion faces in the industry – Astha Pokharel, Sabita Karki, Simran Shakya and Sweta Kalakheti – and the results are magical.

With his father being in the film industry, the camera has been a part of Gautam’s life since childhood. “I have grown on film sets. My father was a production manager for films and often handled the production of major national and international films. Some of the projects he worked for were Nepali classics like ‘Maitighar’ and Bollywood films like ‘Khuda Gawah’, ‘Johnny Mera Naam’, ‘Mahaan’, and ‘Aandi Toofan’. This early exposure to filmmaking led to his love for photography and filmmaking.

Gautam did his first fashion photography assignment a decade ago for Vishal Kapoor, a fashion designer. “I was a portrait photographer and fashion photography came as an opportunity. After much contemplation, I decided to give it a try and Anjali Lama happened to be my first model,” recalls Gautam.

Talking about his creative process, he says, “Creativity and art doesn’t mean you have to make things look beautiful. Don’t take pretty, predictable pictures. The purpose of creativity is to capture energy and feelings. If your pictures have energy, they are alive.”

In an interview with WOW, CEO of Location Nepal, Gautam shares about his journey as a visual storyteller, his fashion photo book, Nepal’s potential as a destination for international filmmakers and photographers, and insights to his next photo exhibition. Excerpts:

It took you 12 years to do a fashion shoot in Mustang, tell us about it…

I have been travelling to Mustang for several film shoots and have been fascinated by the location since then. However, the fashion adventure began when the young designer Tej Maya Pun reached out for a photo shoot of her very first solo designs. Her designs are unique and different. I could immediately visualise the shoot in Mustang. The plan took off within a short period of time. It was almost instantaneous. Before the pandemic hit the world, I did the shoot in mid-November 2019 with more than 30 crew members and four models.

What were the challenges for this shoot?

Every day was challenging in terms of the weather because as a photographer I had to adapt to the changing scenarios to deliver the feelings and the mood. The location and the environment itself are harsh, and two of our team members had to be rescued due to high altitude sickness and sent back to Jomsom. In Lo Manthang I underwent the same, but managed to recover. The cold temperature and windy climate is not easy on the makeup artists and models making it difficult for them to change clothes and looks one after another. We had organized our own mobile toilets, a medical team to keep track of the team members’ physical health, portable changing rooms, oxygen cylinders, and access to hygienic and warm food for the crew to ensure everyone’s safety.

Were there any shifts in the plan then?

Yes. It was an impromptu plan to shoot in Tilicho. We went with our instinct thinking that without Tilicho the whole fashion adventure would be incomplete. The team immediately managed everything. The models had no idea, it was only when the helicopter arrived, they knew about their next adventure.

How was location scouting done?

The trip was planned beforehand with my team. But in the back of my mind, I had a clear vision of the concept and location. During the shoot day, we used to travel to one location, shoot there, pack up and travel to another then shoot like a continuous loop of never-ending styling, makeup, cameras, lights and action. 

Are you planning to exhibit in other countries?

I am going to exhibit my Mustang fashion shoot internationally as well. From Kathmandu we are flying to Dubai, UAE to attract a diverse audience for our work. There are other countries on the list too. This way I will also be able to showcase the potential of Nepal as a destination for fashion photo shoots and films.

What was your experience working with the four models?

Aastha Pokharel, Sabita Karki, Simran Shakya and Sweta Kalakheti are my favourites. They are easy to work with and highly professional. They know what they are doing and it makes it easier to function systematically despite the challenges. 

One picture that is close to your heart…

From every angle linking to composition, lighting, expression and the weather, my favourite picture has to be the one used for the book cover. Interestingly, I got this shot on day one of the shoot. 

Any memory of the fashion shoot you would like to share with our readers…

When we were approaching Lo Manthang, it was very dark. In one car it was my logistics manager, Sabita, Aastha and me. The other team was ahead of us and at one point our car broke down. While the driver was repairing the car, I was holding my phone with the flashlight on to help the driver. Suddenly I looked up at the sky and with my naked eyes I saw the Milky Way. It was a surreal moment for me. I called the others inside the car and all of them had their first sight of the Milky Way.

Tell us more about your exhibition and the book

When I came back from the trip, just posting and advertising on social media felt unfair. I dedicated myself to documenting the memories our team made while working and exploring Mustang in the process. The book takes you on the journey of a fashion adventure and visuals of stunning majestic Himalayas which surely will inspire other people to visit Nepal for their next fashion photography shoot.

I wanted to show the limitless possibilities of fashion photography and show the world what Nepal can offer as a photography destination. To attain this goal, I decided to document all of the pictures I took during our shoot in Mustang and publish them in a book.

Due to Covid, we had to push the book’s launch date a few times, and when we finally did, I wanted to do a photo exhibition along with it. This was planned just ten days before the exhibition. We have worked on every tiny detail, keeping in mind that the event should be able to push the boundaries of fashion photography in Nepal.

Quick- Five

Photography genre: Nature
Life mantra: Stay humble, find happiness in little things, and everything is possible
A person you look up to: My mother
Next project: Wildlife in South Africa
Favourite Models: Aastha Pokharel and Sabita Karki

Photographer : Gautam Dhimal @gautamdhimal

Costume Designer : Tej Maya Pun @tezuusgram

Aastha Pokharel @aastha_p
Sabita Karki @sa2bita
Simran Shakya @simran_shakya7
Sweta Kalakheti

Talent Manager : Oshima Banu @oshimabanu.official

Cinematographers: Bidur Pandey (Novin) and Rameshwor Karki

Production Manager: Dinesh Prakash Mahara

Location Manager: Saujanya Parajuli @sau_enchanter

Shrijal Bikram Shahi @shrijalbikramshahi
Sanjeev Maharjan (Asst.) @sanjeevmaharjan

Hair & Makeup:
Sophie Sunuwar @sophiesunuwar_official
Nilam Paudel @nilampoudel1
Reeta Balami

Light & Grip:
Badri Bahadur Lakai
Shiva Sharan Neupane
Santosh Urau

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