The Endurance Campaign

17 months is the time that it took for Endurance to become a reality. What started on the day of the terrible disaster that hit Nepal on April 25th 2015, ended at the beginning of August 2016 when the book has finally been printed; it has been months of hard work, sometimes of desperation, but over all of determination to tell the story of the people of Nepal working hard to see their country rising again.

Shooting Endurance

I will never forget April 25th, 2015. That day, I was at home in Kathmandu, while the earth shook Nepal. I was living on the 6th floor of a 12 stories building when my wife woke me up. I did not realise what was happening until I saw myself running down the stairs of the building while neighbours were shouting scared words and the wall were cracking in front of us.

Since then, I have dedicated myself completely to tell the story of the people of Nepal, a country that I love. I traveled all around the country hearing stories of survival, meeting anonymous heroes, people that inspired me to become a better person.

While the process of shooting photos was not as hard as I was expecting - the people of Nepal made my work very easy - it was hard to face my own psychological trauma, to deal with the numerous aftershocks that hit Nepal in the months after the earthquake. But that did not stop me from searching for what was behind the endurance of the Nepali people.

Several international organisations, such as International Medical Corps and Doctors Without Borders, and local ones such as The Nepal Youth Foundation, opened the doors to their projects in different areas of Nepal to my camera, I was impressed by their efforts to help the people of Nepal.

Since April 25th, I have been shooting almost everyday, accumulating an archive of over 12000 photographs, some of them shot while on assignment for my agency Getty Images, others while working for international organisations, but most of them on my own, always alongside my Nepali friends, whose dedication and belief in this project pushed my boundaries and kept me going.

A book?

Endurance was born little by little, without me realizing it. The first nights, aftershocks hit the country every 20 minutes. Finally, we had 45 minutes of peace, so we went to sleep on the street. I was hugging my cameras and, when I felt someone touching me, I thought they wanted to steal my cameras. Instead, I looked up to find a woman putting a blanket over me. She said, ”we need to take care of you. You are telling the world what is happening to us.” The women had lost everything but still she was taking care of me. 

The days passed and everywhere I saw incredible scenes of struggle to recover and what surprised me the most was that people were always smiling. I was inspired by it. I was surprised. I was starting to feel frustration as the attention of the media turned away from Nepal to other stories. I felt I needed to do something, so I kept documenting the earthquake for months - only the earthquake and people working to recover and rebuild. I didn’t anything else in Nepal. “Endurance” was born while I was trying to understand what was behind the strength of the Nepali people, behind their smiles, behind their spirit.

Although friends in Nepal were telling me to turn this project into a book, I was not convinced. I did not want it to turn into the sensationalism that sometimes, we, as photojournalists, sell. In other words, a book about a natural disaster did not sound appropriate to me. In September, I had the honour to exhibit my work during the most prestigious festival in the world, Visa Pour L'Image, and there I met the people of FotoEvidence. It was while having a drink when I had the chance to speak to Regina Monfort, and the idea of the book started to appear realistic. Her words started to convince me, that this could be a book not about a disaster but one about the strength of a nation more known for their mountains than for their people. But still, Endurance was just a project, not a book.

At my return to Nepal, I kept working, shooting everyday, speaking to the Nepali people and asking their opinions about the book. It was then that their words convinced me to show Endurance for the first time in Nepal. It was just a video that I mounted with several photos during a photo event organised in Kathmandu by PhotoCircle in the Alliance Française building, but the faces of those attending that event finally convinced me, that Endurance will be a book.

Leaving Nepal

After more than 6 months shooting on an almost daily basis, I decided to leave Nepal, the country where I lived for more than a year. It was a hard decision, but a necessary one. I needed to breathe to work on the book, to choose those photos that I felt represented the fight of the country in the best way possible.

For more than two months I sat in front of my screen, post-processing each of the more than 12,000 photos that I had shot, realizing that those that touched me the most were not necessarily those I had expected. Many of my photos had appeared on the front pages of media around the world, becoming symbols of the earthquake. But I wanted to change that, I no longer wanted to be thought of as the guy that shot the photo of the Buddha statue or the one of the stretchers. Instead, I wanted to do something different, to take risks. I decided to work in black and white, the tonality that I had seen during most of my days shooting. These photos that were so well known were holding me back; it was perhaps the easy way to go with color, but I chose the hard way: to go with my heart and with how I see the world. So black and white was chosen.

To shoot in black and white has been a difficult decision, especially after my work had been exhibited around the world in color. Nepal is colorful and, to tell the story of Nepal, color must be present. The saturated and vivid colors contribute much to the story of this beautiful country. But “Endurance” is about feelings, about spirituality, about strength and resilience. I don’t think color is needed to express these subjects. Colors can distract you from seeing the smile on a face. Many people have told me that I was crazy to do this, but it is a decision that I thought about for many months and one that I do not regret at all.

Endurance and FotoEvidence

It was in January 2016 when the words that Regina Monfort had told me while in Perpignan came back to me. I had known about FotoEvidence for many years - they are a reference for documentary photographers like me - and so I contacted them. Regina had believed in the work since the beginning; she had attended an exhibition organised during the PhotoReporter Festival in Brittany, France and she liked what she saw. She approved the work, but I needed the approval of FotoEvidence’s founders, David and Svetlana. I sent them a series, and their answer was immediately, " the work is so strong, we will publish the book".

I jumped in happiness; I could not believe that Endurance finally could become a reality, but that was when the hardest work started. We need it to create a crowdfunding campaign, to curate the series, to write, to produce videos for promotion, to search for possible backers, for contacts and editors. I could not believe that publishing a book could be this hard.

For weeks, with Regina curating my work from New York, we spent hours on Skype as we discussed a huge archive, moving things around, trying different pairs, to arrive to an understanding regarding the narrative of the book. Meanwhile, David and Svetlana were working on the text that I sent them and on the main page of our Kickstarter campaign, searching for contacts, drawing up budgets, figuring out printing options - too much work that took us more than a month. Finally we had a date for launching the campaign, when we would give our all to try to reach the $27,000 needed for publishing the book.

"When I first met Omar Havana I was taken by his love for the people of Nepal and his commitment to tell the story of survival and endurance he had witnessed during the devastating earthquake and in the following months. My goal as photo editor of the book was to tell a story true to the people of Nepal and true to Omar’s own journey as a concerned photographer and as a human being. Omar shared hundreds of images with me along with numerous accompanying stories. As I always do when working on a book, I spent days living quietly with the photographs, feeling their content and fathoming the heart and mind behind the lens. I found that Omar’s photographs remain gentle and dignifying even when depicting tragedy. His gaze seeks the depth of the human spirit and his steps seem often guided by his compassion for the people he photographs. Building an image sequence for the book, from the streets of Bhaktapur to the remote mountain villages, I aimed to help convey the suffering and indomitable spirit of the people of Nepal trying to survive and rebuild their lives against all odds."

Regina Monfort, Endurance and FotoEvidence Photo Editor

The KickStarter Campaign

In order to publish Endurance FotoEvidence and I needed to raise $27,000 in 35 days.  We set up a crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter to make this enduring testament to the strength and spirit of the people of Nepal a reality.  

We started off well: the first days we started to received many donations from backers around the world, but the momentum slowed and being nervous started to become part of my daily routine. Running a crowdfunding campaign means facing a reality that I hate, but one that is necessary these days when us photographers are not paid what we should, making it impossible for us to publish a book with our money as much as we would like. It is hard to ask people that you consider your family for money for your book, sometimes even shameful, but it is the only way. I truly wish we could do it by ourselves, but salaries today for us are not what they should be and equipment, trips, fixers, translators, transportation are not free and takes up most of our money.

I sent more than 18000 emails in 35 days, making hundreds of phone calls, contacting everyone in my social networks, while at the same time my family, my friends, and the people at FotoEvidence were doing the same. I’m not sure if it worked but I think that even my dog was barking, asking for people to back the project…

When it comes to the last week and you are not there yet, there are times when you regret, times when you want to throw in the towel and give up. But messages from the people of Nepal kept arriving into my inbox: "this book is our story", "this is a great project", "thanks Omar for caring about Nepal." I am not sure if I would have been able to keep pushing without these people; they gave me strength to carry on and 4 days before the end of the campaign, we achieved our goal, Endurance was finally a reality.

In my dreams had always been another target: to surpass the goal and to be able to print more books that we needed to be able to donate copies to Nepal – which we did at the end: we reached $29,348. WE DID IT

Since Then

I was exhausted, but we could not stop, we needed to finish the post production of the book, to start to design it, to write the text, to choose the cover and the paper on which the book would be printed and of course, to print the book.

I am lucky to have had the people who have been involved in the book, I could not have done this without them. First it was the turn of Eduardo Matas and Addretouch in Barcelona, who put their magic into the post-processing of the photos, while Bonnie Briant was working on the design and cover in New York. They did an incredible work, and I was really amazed by the outcome of their work. These people are magicians with what they do, and there is no one better that I could think for this work.

While they were finishing, in Istanbul, the people of Ofset Yapimevi were preparing everything for the printing, and in Sofia, David and Svetlana were coordinating everything, while Regina in New York was giving the last touch to the editing. Amir and Paavan in Kathmandu were writing their text, Gareth in Phnom Penh was sending me suggestions for his afterword and Bernardo Bertolucci in Rome was writing the foreword. And I was here in Granada, still trying to wake up of what was a dream come true, to be able to tell the story of those who opened the doors to their lives to my camera.

Nepal changed me forever

The earthquake changed a lot of things for me, but I will say that it has been Nepal that changed me, not from the day of the earthquake but since my arrival in October 2014. The beauty of the people of Nepal, their hospitality, everything changed me little by little. I don’t know how to explain this change but, since that day, I wake up everyday searching for a way to become a better person, seeing more and more every day the beauty of the people in this world, being humble, caring more about others, being closer than ever to my family.

As a photographer, Nepal has taught me many lessons, but the most important one is that Nepal has reminded me why I am a photographer, who I am and what I love about photography. For years I have been thinking about money and front pages but this is not who I am. I want to tell stories, to be close to people and to discover stories that inspire us. Now is time for me to walk that path again. One that that I forgot for years. All I can say is thanks to Nepal for everything that it has taught me.

Endurance by the Nepali people

Every person that I meet has a story to tell. But I would love to give credit to all the Nepali photographers, who have done an incredible job, better than mine, better than any other photographer that has been with in Nepal since April 25th. “Endurance” would not have been possible without them.

In the book it says “by Omar Havana” but really it should say, “Endurance by the Nepali people.” This project was done by them and the credit must go to them. I am just a photographer that likes to tell stories but, without them, which stories could I tell? “Endurance” is a humble way to give back everything that Nepal has given me. “Endurance” is a collection of photographs born from the frustration of seeing the world forgetting about Nepal. “Endurance” is a tribute to what I saw, to the fight of a country rising again. “Endurance” is an attempt to get their stories heard.

 I would be happy one day if the Nepali people felt that this book tells the story of the country during and after the earthquake. “Endurance” is a book about the lesson of life that the people of Nepal have given after being hit by one of the worst natural disasters ever recorded and the worst to hit Nepal since 1934. I intend to donate books to schools, libraries and community groups in Nepal, because this book belongs to Nepali people.

Thank you Nepal.


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