09 December 2020
09 December 2020 - Written by Laurence Cornet
In a book published by Witty Books, Camillo Pasquarelli draws a poetic portrait of Kashmir as a place stuck in an endless succession of protest, healing, and martyrdom that feed the resistance.
Ever since the independence of India in 1947, the northern region of Kashmir has been a disputed territory. The tensions first led to a war between Pakistan and India, then to another one, before separatist movements arose in Kashmir. Still latent today, the ongoing conflict takes on different forms, from violent confrontations to peaceful protests, in an endless cycle that seems to be as immutable as the seasons.
For Indian people, seasons are the most striking specificity of Kashmir. Hidden by the Himalayas, the local climate differs from that of the rest of India, where monsoons hit every year. Monsoons Never Cross the Mountains, borrowed from national poet Agha Shahid Ali, gives its title to photographer Camillo Pasquarelli’s latest book, published by Witty Books. “The poem emphasises this distinctiveness of Kashmir, which I found interesting and also enabled me to address the seasonal aspect of the political situation. As soon as Spring provides its mild temperatures, protests start to rise again. It’s an eternal cycle of violence and resentment that is out of time”, he explains.
Though the international community remains fairly indifferent to the situation, India has enforced strict rules regarding the territory and working in Kashmir as a journalist has been made nearly impossible. Yet, Pasquarelli worked there for four years, completing a body of work that moved early on from the factual approach to a poetic one, influenced by the atmosphere of the place. “Kashmiri people are well-versed in poetry. Even street vendors recite old Pakistani and Persian poems”, he notes.
His photographs are purposely decontextualised – if it weren’t for the last picture of the book, of a mountainscape typical from Kashmir, and for a few clues spread in the sequence in the form of graffiti claiming “Go India Go” or “Pakistan”, one would not really know where the story unravels.
© Camillo Pasquarelli, from the series Monsoons Never Cross the Mountains
This bias creates a somewhat suffocating sensation, as if the reader too was trapped in this reality. Emphasising this effect, most portraits are unidentifiable. “I wanted to approach the work from the eyes of a child, who see things in a narrow way, not necessarily making connections between things. From the moment they were born, they are plunged into the situation and are obsessed with memories of the bloody years”, Pasquarelli explains.
In order to accentuate this relationship to memory, he added to his own photographs pictures picked in family albums, as well as cards of saints that are sold outside of shrines. “There is a long tradition of worshipping saints in Kashmir. It helps people deal with daily life violations, and at the same time it’s used by politicians to start new protests”, Pasquarelli remarks. And with it, the endless cycle continues.
Monsoons Never Cross the Mountains by Camillo Pasquarelli
Published by Witty Books in December 2020 // Design by Jacopo Undari
84 Pages // 16.7 x 23.7 cm // Swiss binding // 500 copies // €25
Camillo Pasquarelli is an Italian photographer who explores documentary photography through an anthropological approach.
Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Paris focusing on cultural and environmental issues. She is also the editorial director of Dysturb.
This article is part of our feature series Photo Kernel, which aims to give space to the best contemporary practitioners in our community. The word Kernel means the core, centre, or essence of an object, but it also refers to image processing.