The Sewanee Writers’ Conference presents “Kathmandu: After the Quake,” photographs by Preston Merchant, C’90, through July 31 at the Bairnwick Women’s Center on campus.
Merchant, a photographer based in the Bay Area of California, worked in Nepal seven months after the April 2015 earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people and flattened thousands of homes and religious structures, many of them World Heritage sites. Kathmandu and its surrounding towns were severely affected. Though the international community was quick to respond with aid, there has been little reconstruction.
“Nepal is the poorest country in South Asia after Afghanistan, heavily dependent on foreign aid,” Merchant says. “But political paralysis and infighting have exacerbated a monumental tragedy.” The early stages of the crisis were well documented by the media, he says. “I wanted to focus on the ways in which Nepalis were helping each other, turning to their rich traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity, trying to find their own way forward.” (Photo, above: Workers continue the demolition of a damaged home. Over a year after the earthquake, many structures remain unsound and must be strengthened or taken down. The Nepali government’s failure to release funds donated by the international community has prevented timely assessment and action.)
After graduating from Sewanee in 1990, Merchant taught English and Spanish at St. Andrew’s–Sewanee School. He also worked on the staff of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference from 1990-1999. Dividing his time between California and New York, he works as a freelance photographer and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
His project “Indiaworld: Images of the Global Indian Diaspora” was featured at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in 2009 and included as part of a 2014-2015 exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute.
The Conference will also feature the work of literary portrait photographer Miriam Berkley. Spanning 25 years, her portraits of Conference faculty, fellows, scholars, guests, and staff present a substantial visual record of the literary community that has made Sewanee its summer home. Selections from her street photography in New York will also be on display.
Merchant’s and Berkley’s photographs will be up for the duration of the Conference in the Mary Sue Cushman Room of the Bairnwick Women’s Center. Please consult the Conference schedule at sewaneewriters.org or more information on readings and lectures. See more of Merchant’s work at archive.prestonmerchant.com and on Instagram @PrestonMerchantPhoto. Berkley’s work is available at www.miriamberkley.com and on Instagram at @Miriam.Berkley.
Worshipers perform puja, a Hindu act of devotion, at the ruins of the Char Narayan temple in Patan Durbar Square. The 17th century temple, sacred to Vishnu and one of the oldest at the World Heritage site, was destroyed in the earthquake. Devotees placed a tarp above the Vishnu idol, which remained in place after the wooden pagoda above it collapsed.
The Taleju Temple, built in 1564 in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, suffered only minor damage during the earthquake, while adjacent structures collapsed or were heavily damaged.