Participatory Photo Documentation

“Im Land des Donnerdrachen” – ein Artikel über meine Arbeit in Bhutan im deutschen Monatsmagazin “Natur”

Im deutschen Monatsmagazin “Natur” („Natur – das Magazin für Natur, Umwelt und besseres Leben“) ist unter dem Titel “Im Land des Donnerdrachen” ein 9-seitiger Artikel mit Interview und vielen Fotos über meine Arbeit mit dem Participatory Photo Documentation Project in Bhutan erschienen.
The German monthly magazine “Natur” (“Natur – the magazine about nature, environment and a better way of life”) has published an article including an interview and many photos about my work with the Participatory Photo Documentation Project in Bhutan.

Sie können diesen Artikel als pdf-Dokument downloaden / You can download this article (in German) as a pdf file:


Invitation to Sangay Nima’s traditional house for tea and freshly picked oranges

The last afternoon in Kagtong -the day after the exhibition and celebration of local culture at the Kagtong Community Primary School- Sangay Nima, the student photographer of class 6 and her younger sister were inviting me and three other people (the LCD project manager, his son and a teacher of the school) to a tea in her traditional house. It is situated about 30 min walk away from school and lies a bit above on a wonderful spot surrounded by an orange orchard, maize fields, and the beautiful mountains of Lower Kheng.
Sangay told us that her mother was still busy working in the rice field; so she made fire by herself and prepared tea for all of us. While the water was heating over the fire, Sangay went outside twice: first time she brought a bangchung (woven basket) full with hazelnuts and second time she brought freshly picked oranges and a cucumber from the garden.
I was surprised and delighted to see with what social competence and naturalness Sangay was serving her guests. Later -as it already was getting dark outside- her mother was coming back from the field. In the meantime -beside serving us- Sangay had already prepared rice for her family’s dinner.
Filled with gratefulness we said goodbye to Sangay and her family and left to reach back to the village before it was getting all dark.

Celebrating “Local Culture Day” at the Kagtong Community Primary School in Lower Kheng, 11. Nov. 2012 (4th King’s Birthday)

Celebrating “Local Culture Day” at the Kagtong Community Primary School in Lower Kheng, 11. Nov. 2012 (4th King’s Birthday)

About 300 people from Kagtong and surrounding villages came to see and enjoy -together with all students and teachers- a day of celebration of THEIR local culture at the Kagtong Community Primary School in Lower Kheng, Zhemgang.

The event was organised and funded by the “Leveraging and Preserving Bhutan’s Cultural Diversity” (LCD) Project implemented by HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation Bhutan with funding by the European Union. The LCD project has been active in Ngalatrong -as well as in three other regions and communities in the country- since 2010.

I conducted the Participatory Photo Documentation project  at the school in 2011 and 2012, teaching the students about digital photography to explore and document the treasures of their local culture and traditional knowledge. A well received exhibition at the Tarayana Centre in May 2011 was showcasing “Life in Ngangla Through The Children’s Eyes” to an interested urban public.

Now it were the people of Ngala Gewog themselves who came together to showcase and celebrate their local culture.

The architecture of traditional houses, various usage of different plants, a variety of religious rituals and celebrations, many stories and legends from the area, local songs and dances, all kind of handcrafted items and many more fascinating aspects of traditional knowledge and local culture were the subject of this special event. The exhibition showed -beside many handmade objects- around 250 photos mainly taken by the students of class 5 and 6. The students and teachers have also collected rich information about traditional rural life within the community and among the experts of the village. This information was now displayed to the public on well designed posters with informative texts and pictures.

The exhibition was visitied by Dasho Dzongda, the community members, and all students and teachers.  All visitors were very excited and happy to get such a vast overview and lively and detailed insight into their fascinating local culture and rich traditional knowledge.

An impressive number of different dances and songs performed by the students and the villagers and a good tasty meal for all visitors contributed to the success of the day.

Photos taken by Sangay Nima, class 6, one of the student photographers in Kagtong

The following photos are taken by Sangay Nima, class 6 student at the Kagtong Community Primary School in Kagtong where I have been working with the students on the topic of life in the village and their local culture.
Sangay took interesting photos of all kind of things that she came across and she took it with a great sensibility for composition and detail. Of the 440 photos she took you can see a few here..


Participatory Photo Documentation at Kagtong Community Primary School

For another week I am working at the Kagtong Community Primary School in remote Lower Kheng. I feel privilegued and blessed that I can be here in such a wonderful place.

Mountains all covered with forest full of richest wildlife, a community with plenty of children eager to learn whatever they are taught; I teach them photography and we continue to explore and learn about the rich treasure of traditional local knowledge. I brought back the photos that the students have taken last year. Now they are printed in A4 size and protected with a transparent lamination and can be used in all the classes.

The students teach me about their way of life and culture by explaining each and every detail in the photographs that were taken in their village and its surrounding; they know all the plants by their Khengpa names, they know what they are used for, they know all the Khengpa names of the dozen or so different types of handmade baskets, they know each and every person and place here… I am thankful that they are very patient and indulgent to me repeating again and again till I am able to pronounce the words in their native language.

The people in the remote areas of Lower Kheng are having a huge knowledge about living from and with nature. Their houses and most of the things that they use in daily life are all produced by their own hands from natural materials found in their environment. In special workshops parents share their skills how to produce handcrafted items made of bamboo with the students and the teachers at Kagtong Community Primary School. Another man is teaching traditional songs and dances.

I am happy to be among all these interesting people and their lively children. So far they have no role models from TV or film and for this they are still really unique personalities, each of them beautiful and adorable in her or his own way.

On Nov. 11th, the fourth King’s birthday, we will have an exhibition on local culture on the school ground, showcasing and celebrating the rich and vast knowledge of the people in Lower Kheng about their natural environment…bringing together the experts from the villages (the villagers), the students, the teachers and interested guests..