Kingdom of Lo by Will Elsom reminds us that we are all a product of our environment
The Oxford-based photographer visited the Upper Mustang area of Nepal in 2018 at a crucial time when development and modernisation were set to change the lives of those living there forever.
- Ruby Boddington
- 7 February 2020
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
Photographer Will Elsom remembers coming across Greg Girard’s book Phantom Shanghai and being entirely consumed by the atmosphere in the pictures. “There’s something quite special in being able to communicate a feeling, even if it is interpreted differently, in something as static and literal as a photograph,” he tells It’s Nice That. “It’s really exciting when you begin to put images together you instantly create a narrative, it could be one that’s completely fabricated, but inevitably the viewer will try to make a connection between the images and an idea begins to unfold.”
Today, working as an editorial and commercial photographer in Oxford, Will strives to do the same in his own work, particularly in his personal projects. Through documentary-led work, he explores the human experience, our relationship with our environment and how that shapes our lives. “I think there’s a romanticism around people that live very close to the land within our planets wilder places and I'm always interested to explore the reasons behind that,” he adds.
These themes are prevalent in Will’s most recent work, titled Kingdom of Lo, a series which documents the Upper Mustang area of Nepal. Will had originally passed by the edges of the restricted entry point to this area a few years previously and, naturally, had his interest piqued by “the vast riverbed that ran up the valley and by its restricted nature (up until 1992 the area remained a demilitarised zone, it is still considered sensitive so permits must be sought to enter).” After much research on the area, he found out that a road was currently being constructed through this valley, a monumental change which would inevitably alter the lives of those in Upper Mustang.
Will was able to return to Upper Mustang in 2018, and spent ten days exploring the area on foot, “which is one of my favourite ways to travel,” he tells us.
He tells us a bit more about the location: “The new road would be suitable for large goods vehicles to travel through Upper Mustang, creating a new border with China which would then be the lowest motorable pass (Kora La, 4660m) through the Himalaya. Clearly one of both strategic importance and commercial value.
“In 2008, Upper Mustang was stripped of its autonomy following protests by Tibetan exiles in Nepal over the occupation of Tibet. Their power was shifted into the hands of the central government by nothing other than a social construct, one that seems so flimsy in comparison to the history of Mustang. Not long after road construction began, something the former King (Raja Jigme Bista) feared would bring an end to the unique culture of his land.”
This moment clearly presented itself as a tipping point, therefore, and Will wanted to capture this way of life on film before it potentially falls pretty to rapid westernisation. The result is a staggeringly beautiful series that depicts the landscape, and its people sensitively and honestly. “The Loba are extremely proud of their home and their lifestyle. I tried to remain mostly observational when in Mustang as to not imprint my own ideas about this place,” Will adds on how he achieved this.
Ultimately, Kingdom of Lo is a reminder of the power of photography to record and immortalise. While the changes facing Mustang in the long run are yet unknown, the collective identity of this remote community is will be forever present in Will’s imagery. For the photographer, he hopes to do more than just remember, however: “Other than drawing attention to a unique and remote community, hopefully people will feel inspired by the Loba and their way of life, and in turn consider our own environment as we are all very much a product of it.”
GalleryWill Elsom: Kingdom of Lo
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.