T his time of year Mustang is a profusion of colour: lapis lazuli sky with dazzling clouds, purple fields of buckwheat, ripening golden barley terraces, Dhakmar’s towering red cliffs, yellow rocks, salmon sunsets.
So why would Kevin Bubriski and Sienna Craig publish a photo book called Mustang in Black and White?
As Tibetologist Charles Ramble explains in the preface, ‘Mustang: Black and White, But Never Gray’, the Kingdom of Lo was historically perceived as a ‘dark’ corner. Even early Bon Tibetans found the place forbidding and inhabited by demons.
But Ramble gives Mustang’s ‘darkness’ a positive attribute. ‘Sometimes, darkness is the best place in which to see the cosmos in its full radiance,’ he writes. Anyone who has gazed up at the Milky Way from the starlit landscape around the ancient monastery at Lo Gekar will know what he is talking about.
Mustang is technically in Nepal, but is part of the trans-Himalayan plateau, situated on what used to be the shores of the Tethys Sea. Exposed boulders high on cliff faces were once strewn on the banks of the prehistoric Kali Gandaki, which cut through the mountains as they rose, lifting fossilised ammonites that once crawled the ocean floor.
Bubriski writes that Mustang’s colours have always fascinated him, adding: ‘My choice to represent Mustang in black and white was motivated by the dramatic power of how the bright sunlight and deep shadows transform the physical earthen forms and shapes of chörten, gompa, mountains, ladders and doorways into visually powerful and compelling compositions.’
Bubriski first came to Nepal in 1975, spending two years in Humla as a Peace Corps volunteer. Most of his photographic life has been in darkrooms working with black and white prints, eschewing the digital camera. Finally giving in, he now uses a smartphone app for square black and white images with artificially frayed edges.
Artists have been inspired by Mustang to use various medium to capture its richness. Robert Powell took to water colour to depict Mustang in his book Earth Door Sky Door: Paintings of Mustang. Bubriski explains his choice of black and white photography: ‘As the reality of the colour world was distilled by my eye… I found the visual transformation and abstraction intriguing with what it added, yet also with what it took away.’