In assignment to recopy on colour transparency the paintings of the Himalayas by the Russian artist Nicholas Roerich was the beginning of Ashok Dilwali’s love affair with the mountains. The call of the mountains for the nature lover can be irresistible and for Ashok it is an addiction. He has published over 20 books on the region over a period of almost 40 years and this book is a collection of his journeys to the Himalayas.
The term photography means writing with light, and Ashok has taken the meaning literally to paint the mountains with his camera. Using different formats, makes and models of cameras including the all time popular 35mm film camera Nikon F2, Linofh and Mamiya in the large and medium formats Ashok has kept pace with technological changes in the photographic field. He has constantly upgraded his cameras from the fully manual Nikon F2 to the digital Nikon and canon cameras. Ashok has also chosen his films to suit the situation or the mood he had wanted to create juggling between negative and transparency films. He has photographed the mountains at different seasons, different times of the day and night and at different lighting conditions from hazy sun, bright light, dusk and dawn, sometimes even during the rains and dull weather to capture the mood of the hills. He has even used shutter speeds as long as an hour to capture the magic of hills.
That Ashok is very meticulous in maintaining records is evident by the details given below every photograph on the camera used, focal length of the lens, exposure and the film used, even for photographs taken 30 years ago! This information will be very useful for those planning a photographic trip to the Himalayas.
In a book containing over 150 photographs all stunningly beautiful, brilliant colours all very well composed it is difficult to pick out a few for special mention. The tonal range and details he has obtained from the strong highlight mid tones and shadows demonstrate Ashok’s mastery over not only the camera but complete control over film processing and digital processing techniques as well.
The photograph Sanchoo shot with a digital camera illustrates this. Ashok has created a 3D effect where the strong cross lighting brings out the contours of the mountain with enough detail in the foreground which is in mild to deep shadows. The wall of Chortens was shot using a 35MM film camera on transparency film. It has several areas of highlights and shadows with a deep blue sky, and the composition and detailing has come out superbly.
Holy Kailash (South Face) is a perfect example for tonal values. Shot on transparency film with strong side lighting, it captures the snow capped mountain in the various tones or shades of white with a dark foreground and brilliant blue sky.
Ashok has suggested the movement of the clouds in his photograph Moon rise and the last rays at Dungti: the colours of the setting sun are brilliantly reflected on the passing clouds.
The double spread Punchimachuli Massif in moonlight was exposed for an hour with a large format Linofh and has the mountains lit as if in daylight with patches of light in the buildings situated a distance apart in the forested foreground. The long exposure has brought out the detail in the trees in the forested area. Another double spread with the same Linofh Moon at Tengboche (Nepal) has turned the mountain blue, with details on the snow.
A photograph taken on flight from Leh to Delhi makes the snow capped mountains take interesting shapes. The Glacier in Keylong is a digital photograph that was taken when the sun lit up the valley in a brilliant yellow hue after a cloud cover. Another double spread with a Linofh has recorded the movement of the stars as streaks of light because of the half an hour exposure. The photograph has the mountains in deep black with a blue sky.
Interesting information on every photograph has been given at the end of the book with thumbnail photographs. The book though a bit too large to handle has 152 photographs which paint the mountains in various hues. A treasure for the nature lover.
(D. Krishnan is the Photo Editor of The Hindu)