Beauty in Chaos

by Saniya More

November 17, 2017

Shweta Gulati is a Multimedia Photography and Design Fellow working to document change-makers and local communities in Nepal.

A photo of Shweta Gulati
Shweta Gulati

Shweta Gulati became a student at the Newhouse school last May and is now in Kathmandu, Nepal, on a fellowship through the Newhouse Center for Global Engagement. There, she is capturing images and videos of individuals who are working at a grassroots level to improve their societies, whether it be through campaigns, events or just talking to each other.

“It’s chaotic, and there’s beauty in this chaos,” Gulati says. “There’s always interesting things happening—if you step from just one block to another, it would be a completely different landscape. It’s never dull.”

It took Gulati years to discover her passion for photography. She earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and moved to the United States from India to continue her education in graduate school.

While pursuing a master’s degree in computer science at the University of Texas, Austin, Gulati joined the college newspaper and found herself spending more time photographing for the newspaper than in the computer science lab.

After graduating with a master’s degree, Gulati started working for eBay as a computer scientist, but missed taking photographs. She quit her job and applied to the multimedia photography and design program at Newhouse.

When asked about how life is different between the communications and engineering industries, Gulati says journalism is more free flowing.

“In engineering, it’s more algorithmic, more structured. Here, it’s more creative—it has more to do with the heart. If you’re connecting with people, it’s more about how you tell their stories,” she says.

After her first semester in Newhouse, Professor Ken Harper, director of the Newhouse Center for Global Engagement, encouraged her to apply for a fellowship in Nepal. The fellowship would entail working with the Accountability Lab, a nonprofit that empowers youth and change makers in Liberia, Mali, Nepal, Nigeria and Pakistan to make their societies more transparent through campaigns and conversation. The organization has launched a series of campaigns in Nepal specifically. One of the most notable is Citizen Helpdesks, which assists with disaster relief efforts after the 2015 earthquake by working in the hardest hit areas to monitor and improve earthquake response; lobbying government officials to establish new policies; and helping survivors get the compensation they have been promised.

Gulati’s main responsibility is to produce short videos and take photographs of people working on the campaigns, as well as local communities and individuals. The Accountability Lab pays Gulati a small stipend while the Newhouse School provides Gulati with equipment.

There is one man Gulati photographed who she found especially memorable.

“The man’s brother was in jail for crimes he says his brother did not commit,” Gulati says. “The man told me all these stories about his life. He trusted me with his story.”

Gulati says the Nepali culture is very similar to her native Indian culture, but that language has been a barrier at times.

“Everyone thinks I’m Nepali,” Gulati says. “They speak with me directly in Nepali but I can’t communicate back, so I speak with them in Hindi and we understand each other!”

Gulati says the bonds between family and community are very strong and it’s easy to feel at home wherever you go.

After she completes her fellowship in a few months, Gulati hopes to do a multimedia project on South Asia, specifically in India, where she wants to document festivals, communities and her hometown. Until then, she will continue her work in Nepal.

“As a photojournalist, it really humbles me to be here,” Gulati says. “I used to complain about petty things but I feel I have become more down to earth after coming here. I’m thankful for every day.”

Saniya More is a junior broadcast and digital journalism major at the Newhouse School.

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