With a mandatory tourist visa fee of $250 a day, Bhutan is one of the most expensive places to live as a foreigner. Still, photographer Kara Fox was determined to get there and have an opportunity to photograph this unique Himalayan Kingdom. Kara had lived, worked, and traveled extensively in Southeast Asia for the past decade, and in 2011 she was finally able to get to Bhutan, taking on photography projects that would last through today.
In 2008, Kara was living and photographing amongst Myanmar’s exiled pro-democracy groups. She informally taught yoga to some of the other journalists and non-government officials there, so a few years later, when one of the NGO workers she had taught was in Bhutan and heard of a yoga position opening, he gave her a call. It wasn’t photography, but it was enough to allow Kara into the country without the $250/day tourist visa, so she took the opportunity and ran with it. She stayed in Bhutan, photographing life around her and developing ideas for a new project, “Another Bhutan.”
Kara found that living in Bhutan was a huge challenge for her as a photographer, as she wanted to take pictures that captured the world of Bhutan as she she saw it, but without promoting one narrow view of stereotypical Bhutan culture.
As a foreigner working here, I fear that only highlighting photographs of the traditional helps to perpetuate visual representations of “The Other”—in my mind this is synonymous with cultural imperialism. So I teeter on exploring the nuances of change and development along with respecting the traditions of a very fascinating land by looking beyond what is presented to me as an outsider.
Kara feels hugely fortunate that she has been able to spend so much time in this place that is typically a quick tourist stop-off to anyone not originally from the region. “Sinking in, learning the national language, and forming friendships,” she says, has been key for how she’s conducted her work there. She hopes that her images work to open up a conversation about Bhutan rather than tell a story. Her latest project, “Another Bhutan,” is one way she’s found to explore distinct aspects of the culture, this time through young people and the modernization they’re bringing to the economy and the country’s mentality.
Another Bhutan is a project aimed to highlight the country’s juxtaposition of traditional life against its modern development through the eyes of its young people. This multimedia series attempts to provide a platform to show the paradoxical nature of development in the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan by marrying images of traditional Bhutanese life, often imagined by foreigners through the government’s ecotourism policy against the reality of a country that is rapidly modernizing.
Bhutan is very small, so most of the people Kara photographs, she’s able to meet through personal contacts or friends. With a total population of just over 750,000, connections move quickly. “If you are interested in an idea or project, it normally just takes a tea session to solidify a plan.”
Kara has found that the younger people she’s come in contact with have been really excited by her images for “Another Bhutan.” It’s cool for them to get to explore the complexities of their society and to have someone shine the spotlight on their perspective. Kara continues to create images and videos for this series, constantly searching for the next avenue to explore her themes.
To view more of Kara’s work, visit karafox.com.