Two children standing in a cornfield with blue Canon cameras held up to take a photo.

A childhood dream and a bag of cameras

Katmandu sits at the foothill of the Himalayas and is the starting point for many intrepid travellers who are drawn to its vastness, traditions and natural beauty. Jérôme Gence was one such traveller and alongside Dawa, his friend and Nepalese native, he headed to the remote regions of Khumbu, Lamjung and Lower Dolpo.
Born and raised on the island of Réunion, an overseas region of France, as a child Jérôme was inspired by tales of the Himalayas in his school lessons and dreamed of travelling there. In adulthood, he spent a decade living in Paris, but the dream didn’t leave him, so he followed it. Jérôme’s trip to the Himalayas took nearly two years of travelling, by train, bike and even hitchhiking, taking in Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Iran and Central Asia, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, before heading to Burma and Nepal. At the time, he did not consider himself to be a photographer, but he had a desire to create a connection with the people he met on the road and he chose his camera as the tool that would open up dialogue – even without a shared language.

Jérôme Gence shows a group of young monks how to use his DSLR camera to take ID photos for their passports.
“Thanks to the camera, we can interact together.” Language was no barrier for Jérôme as he reached out to new people using his images. Here, Jérôme shows a group of young monks how to use his DSLR camera to take ID photos for their passports.

But one camera is never enough and Jérôme and his friends filled a bag with a collection of compact Canon cameras and a small photo printer. The plan was to power the photo printer with little solar panels – creating the perfect traveller’s portable studio with which to hold workshops for Nepalese children. And the plan was a good one, but before he could begin a terrible tragedy occurred.
“When I arrived in Nepal, I planned to reach the mountains as soon as possible, both for the experience and to organise some workshops. But the next day, a massive earthquake hit the country, killing and injuring thousands. A few weeks later in Katmandu, I met Eric Valli, a famous photographer and director who has dedicated his life to telling the stories of Nepal. He told me that making these workshops happen could be a small breath of fresh air for the kids of the remote places of Nepal.”
And so, their journey began. When they reached their destination, they were able to approach people with a purpose and each meeting led to another until they were well-known. Jérôme used his camera as a means to share his world and understand the lives of the people he met in this tiny community that exists in a vast and remote place. Over five months, his new relationships found him creating intimate portraits of the nomad families in remote areas of Nepal, faithfully and gently representing their lives, despite their being so different to his own.

A man helps a small child to use a camera.
Dawa teaching photography to a student of a temporary school in Khumbu. “Dawa helped me so much along the way and on this project.He opened to me the doors of his country … like his father did for Eric decades ago.”
A woman sits on the floor next to shelves and dishes of food.
Intimate moments in the lives of the people of Lamjung are faithfully represented in the spirit of friendship.
Two people in a yellow field with bails of straw on their backs. One also carries a small child on their shoulders.
Jérôme’s shots convey the purposefulness of daily life without any sense of voyeurism.

In time he also began to work with local schools, teaching the children to use the compact cameras that he had prophetically carried all the way up this mountain. The children’s images were a means to explore their dreams and expectations, and each child was able to print their images and organise an exhibition of their photography for their friends and families. In all, over 2000 photos, taken by the children of the upper Himalayas, were printed and exhibited, “which is challenging because we had no electricity!”. Each child also received a portrait of their loved ones, as Jérôme and his friends wanted them to have a physical memory of their parents or grandparents to hold and keep forever. Children in the Himalayas do not have such things.

A man helps a small child to use a camera.
Each child explored their ‘dreams and expectations’ using the compact Canon cameras that Jérôme brought with him to their village.

Since his incredible journey, both literally and photographically, Jérôme has found a calling for photography and storytelling. Veteran French photographer and film director Éric Valli has taken him under his wing and he has exhibited his work widely. Jérôme’ photography from the Himalayas was shown at the prestigious Atelier Yann Arthus-Bertrand in Paris with the support of Canon France.
Since then, he has been focusing on how the Internet and new technologies affect the lives of people. His stories ‘Livestreamers’ and the ‘Virtual Singers’ have been published in Le Figaro Magazine, Stern, National Geographic website and Die Zeit among others. They were also screened at Visa Pour l’Image in 2018 and 2019.
You can see more of Jérôme’s photography, including his latest works, on his website.

Written by Anna Shaw

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