Ronald Patrick· Kharnak nomads

May 13, 2019

Ronald is a Chilean photographer who travels to remote places in order to portray fascinating stories of isolated and sometimes endangered people and cultures. In his series "Kharnak nomads", Ronald shows the lives of this group of families inhabiting the Ladakh high-planes, and where their main activity is the production of Pashmina wool. In Ronald's images we can see the profound connection that exists between these people and their environment, and the unfortunate disappearance of this way of living due to economic pressures and emigration.

am - First of all thank you very much for your contribution to our project. Can you please introduce yourself for us?

RP - Hi there, my name is Ronald Patrick, I'm a documentary photographer born in Santiago, Chile. I'm currently based between Switzerland and Germany. Although I studied business and economics, in the back of my head I always had photography as something I wanted to do seriously, so after finishing my studies and working in San Francisco, CA for a logistics company for 3 years, I decided I had to take the big leap and pursue what was important to me. So I moved to Madrid where I studied photography at EFTI and started all over in a new industry, that is already 10 years ago. In my photography career, I have been very fortunate to travel to many different places and to stay for long periods of time when I felt it would be interesting to stop. Taking time is very important for me.

I'm currently thinking on publishing a new book and figuring out the ways to go back to some of the places where I'm working on my long term projects.


am - How did you start in photography?

RP - I guess it was at a very early stage, I was about 10 and went on a field trip to the beach with my school. I asked my parents for a camera and they gave me a toy camera with two rolls of film. When we went to develop them, all pictures where fogged, but I still remember the waves crashing into those cliffs that I had photographed. It took a while after that disappointing experience to get a real camera. When I turned 16, my dad gave me he's beloved Pentax, a camera he had got on a trip to Japan in 1964, that was for me the real deal, and from then on I never stopped.

am - What is “Kharnak nomads” about?

RP - This story is about a community of 16 Kharnak nomadic families who live in the high plains of Ladakh, India. They have been working in the Pashmina wool business for the past generations. Together, they own over 7000 sheep and goats and around 300 yaks, which they graze daily at over 4.700 meters.

To overcome the hardship of daily life in such an isolated place, combined with the sacrifices these nomads have to make every year to keep their livestock alive and healthy, this trans-generational community needs to be committed to work closely together. The interdependency of the nomads with their livestock defines their sustainable lifestyle, which is intimately related to nature and forms a perfect but fragile circle that requires a lot of effort and dedication to make it work.

The Pashmina wool trade is undoubtedly an important business in the region. Although sold at very high prices in European markets, the producers only earn a fraction of the end price. Regardless, many families and communities still depend on this practice, being their only income and knowhow.

Government efforts and incentives aiming at fair trade are almost inexistent for these nomadic communities battling to keep their business alive.

For a few years now, younger generations have been leaving behind the highlands in search for a better life in the cities, this generational gap will extinct the nomadic practices of their ancestors. The disappearance of such pure lifestyle is inevitable and might eventually be forgotten.


am - What were you most interested in capturing with these images?

RP - Living with the Kharnak nomads was like going into a time capsule hundreds of years back - with some exceptions like them occasionally driving a car or wearing sneakers -, life there happens at a completely different pace and rhythm. They depend on their animals as much as the animals depend on them. Constantly on the move looking for the best pastures to feed their animals, they rely on nature. There is a perfect yet fragile balance between man and Nature. Cultures like the Kharnak are vanishing for a number of different reasons -political, social environmental, etc.-, and like other nomadic tribes their way of living is bound to soon disappear.

To me, the loss of the Kharnak Nomads’ culture to the modern society has a very important connotation. Their way of living, traditions and rich culture is a true example of a community that lives sustainably, proves respect for nature and embraces a conscious lifestyle; aspects that we as a “modern” society should be craving for and still learning from.

am - Who are your favourite photographers / artists?

RP - There are many photographers and artist I admire and who influence my work, the list is long but some who cross my mind are Josef Koudelka, Thomas Struth, Kosuke Okahara, Alec Soth, Sergio Larrain and Cristina García Rodero. My favourite painters are Roberto Matta, Rene Magritte and Dali.


am - What’s your favourite movie?

RP - There are many, but one that I keep on watching is "The big Lebowsky". It puts a smile on my face every time I see it.


am - What is your favourite photo book?

RP - "Niagara" by Alec Soth and "Life is Elsewhere" by Sohrab Hura.


am - Thank you very much for your time and your contribution to analog magazine.

RP - You're very Welcome!

All images © Ronald Patrick

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