Fernando Ezquerro’s “The Dwelling in the Snow. Trip Through the Seven Kingdoms of the Himalayas” exhibition creates such a narrative that museum-goers can almost breathe his experience- his cold treks, his cultural interactions, and his remote stays. Fernando Ezquerro is a seasoned photographer and mountaineer who documented his eight-year journey through the culturally diverse, historically rich and visually mesmerizing Himalayas. Each month of his seven-month exhibition in the Museum of Anthropology in Madrid, Spain is dedicated to one of the Himalaya’s seven kingdoms: Nepal, Ladakh, Zanskar, Mustang, Sikkim, Tibet, and Bhutan.
On this chilly December night in Madrid at the Museum of Anthropology, I found myself transported to the remote region of Ladakh. Surrounded by photos of mountainous landscapes and historical small towns near the Indus river, I felt a part of the journey through the Northern Himalayas. Each photo provided insights into the way of life of the people, their Buddhist traditions and their surrounding environment, which very clearly influences their modest way of life. Based on the photographs of passes with breathtaking views at high altitudes, Ladakh or “the land of high passes” stands true to its name.
During our stroll through the exhibit, my boyfriend and I observed a breathtaking photo of an illuminated mountain, and in the distance, a mountain chain being consumed by the night (see below). We basked over the magnificence of the photo with who we presumed to be an equally enchanted woman beside us. However, the woman confided that she was the photographer’s wife. She explained that she had made a great majority of the journey alongside Fernando, who she proceeded to introduce us to.
Fernando was open to sharing his stories and eager to answer our questions. He nostalgically recounted how the mountains were extraordinarily beautiful, but what was truly beautiful was the humanity and the cultural diversity he encountered. Of course, Fernando spoke of the journey- of the cold, the all-consuming altitude sickness and on the adventure itself, but what seemed to have filled him with the most gratification were the gestures of goodwill by the people.
In terms of Fernando’s craft, moments like the one captured above were achieved as a result of patience. No flash was used to take the photograph; rather Fernando took that shot by waiting peacefully for nature to run its course, so he could capture it in a photo. Once the setting sun gave darkness to the distance, he could capture what was illuminated in front of him.
Background information and artifacts are paired with the collection so that the visitor can grasp the magnitude of each photo. The visitor subconsciously follows a storyline as they make their way from room to room, entering at the exposition, then making their way to the climax, and exiting at the resolution.
Stories have the power to evoke emotion, to entertain, to offer a point of view, to promote cultural preservation and to educate.
In the exposition, you are provided the historical context of the vast and varied Himalayan mountains. The complexity of the mountain range is made evident here. The visitor immediately understands in the exposition why Fernando has chosen to separate the exhibition into the seven kingdoms. For the sake of the diverse people, their extensive history and their distinct environments, he simply couldn’t bundle a visual collection of the Himalayas into the same exhibition. This way each kingdom is given their own visual representation. The collection in the climax is made up of striking scenery, towns, and people in the Ladakh region. The resolution is very much a conclusion of his time in Ladakh, thus it’s filled with the people that made his journey.
Stories have the power to evoke emotion, to entertain, to offer a point of view, to promote cultural preservation and to educate. A debated question is should museum exhibits tell stories? How should exhibits tell stories? And who has the right to tell these stories? The reality is that Fernando is an outsider. He is not from the Himalayas, thus he can’t completely put himself in the shoes of the different religious, cultural and ethnically diverse people. However, Fernando manages to tell a story in this exhibit without acting as an owner. Rather than acting as the voice of the people or claiming himself an expert, he lets the photos speak for themselves. The written content is simply there to give the visitor an anthropological understanding of what they are seeing and to explain his personal journey.
Fernando’s exhibition and his photos of the Himalayan landscapes are spectacular, and equally so are his portraits that seem to share a lifetime of secrets and to reveal pieces of one’s personality. Though it may feel in leaving the exhibition that one has bared witness to the bulk of the 8-year journey, Fernando emphasized in his conversation with us that many of his photographs are not displayed in the exhibition. As the collection is in the Museum of Anthropology, the exhibition was curated to give a window into how people live and interact with one another and their rich environment. However, it is the photos of the emotional landscapes and the remote beauty for which he exuded great pride, and which shed a light on the true magnitude of his journey. Therefore, if you would like to further put yourself in Fernando’s trekking shoes, I recommend you delve into his website.
All Photos courtesy of Fernando Ezquerro Photography