Interview, Jeremy Snell -
Human Beings within Humanity
Jeremy! How was it living among the Buddhas and Himalayas during your recent trip to Bhutan?
It was a special journey! I’ve traveled numerous times to the Himalayas in both Nepal and India but will say that there is something intrinsically different about Bhutan. The entire country seems to function on a different wavelength. The pace of life and the importance of life itself is something that is treasured and protected there. Despite being a culturally and geographically isolated country, they are in many ways leading the rest of the world in regards to their environmental footprint and cultural preservation.
There’s a sutra by Buddha, a part of which says, “Better than a hundred years of ignorance is one day spent in reflection” - Would you say that a deep reflection is what put you onto this journey?
The trip started from a spirit of adventure and curiosity amongst myself and two filmmaker friends. During the trip, that sense of curiosity transformed into deep awe and reflection towards not only the beautiful people and landscapes of Bhutan but also the underlying spirituality that was ever present.
On this journey, you are continuously highlighting the stories of these individuals whom you have had the chance to meet. How difficult is it to capture their authentic sense of being without generalizing?
I could never claim to be capturing someone’s authentic self or culture through my photography, rather my hope is to capture new perspectives. What I point my lens at will always be my personal point of view and way of seeing the world. I do make a strong effort to give a subject enough time and space to move past the initial reaction of a camera or foreigner in front of them though.
Is it important for you to go into a place of no thoughts before you can connect with these individuals? How do you feel that transforms and deepens your storytelling?
So often we go into new places with a plethora of preconceived ideas about a space. I think disconnecting from outside influences and allowing oneself to truly be present is very important to me. Sometimes our internal dialogues can really bring a negative weight into a space. I find that the moments where I feel the most “flow” in my creativity, are when I am in visually stimulating environments that naturally force me to silence my own internal dialogue.
I feel that you are constantly highlighting life itself by portraying how these individuals interact with life.
What do you think is necessary for people to come closer to life as it’s experienced in these photographs, with joy?
It requires an openness of mind and heart. I can only hope that what I capture reflects my own personal journey of learning new ways of seeing humanity.
Has there been an encounter so powerful while sharing with someone that it left you without words? Can you tell us about it?
Many of my interactions with subjects usually go without words. I find it endlessly freeing and beautiful to non-verbally interact with someone on a very basic human level.
To answer your question, I had a particularly powerful interaction with an elderly widow in Vrindavan during Holi last year. She approached me and my friends in a temple and began to weep and pour herself out to us. None of us spoke Hindi, so there was nothing we could do but be present and embrace her in her sorrow. We spent the rest of the day parading through the streets, playing Holi with her along with hundreds of others. I’ll never forget the look she had in her eyes during her moment of vulnerability and throughout the rest of the day.
Now, there’s an abstract between the western and eastern psychology. One revolves around concentration and the other on meditation. Are you still bridging these two approaches in your own life - learning and forgetting - or it becomes harder as you travel more?
The more transient my life becomes, the more difficult it becomes to be truly present in a singular place. I am often always planning multiple trips while still in the middle of one. Being fully present in a moment is something I value highly, yet often fall short of. I feel extremely blessed to be able to do what I do and am striving to never take these moments for granted.
You once told me that Vrindavan is one of your favorite places - was it because of the religiously rich environment or perhaps, feeling that you have been here before?
Vrindavan has a very significant spiritual history. It’s one of my favorite places in India because of how culturally preserved it is. Walking the streets and along the river gives you a sense that you traveled back in time. Vrindavan during Holi is something everyone needs to experience.
Could you also share with us the details on your standard creative process - and how that’s different while you are filming or photographing?
I’m pretty camera and gear agnostic, as I travel with multiple cameras and often change things from trip to trip.
That being said, you can often find me walking around a rural village with a Profoto strobe on a light stand in one hand, and some sort of camera in the other. I’m sure it’s a very odd sight.
When filming, the process is usually quite larger in scale and involves a lot of support from a producer, director, camera assistants and gaffer/grips. Regardless of crew and production size, I like to keep things more intimate with whomever I am filming on set. The more people there are interfering with a space and scene, the harder it is to capture personal and authentic moments.
Are there any stories you look up to, or books that you read to keep yourself on this journey or for inspiration? Can you share the names with us?
I have a huge admiration towards the life and work of Sebastião Salgado — which was beautifully told in “Salt of the earth”. I don’t read as often as I should, but a book I really resonate with is “Everything Belongs” by Richard Rohr.
Before I ask you the last question, Can you tell us what is the significance of human life to you?
It’s a gift.
Lastly, what would you suggest or share with other photographers?
The process is more important than the outcome.
Interview with Jeremy Snell