Captivating Photos of the Survivors of the Nepal Earthquake

Photographer Sara Hylton visited the central Asian nation once the 7.9 tremor shook the earth

(Sara Hylton)
smithsonian.com

I first traveled to Nepal in 2012. I was still mourning the sudden death of my father, and went on intuition. The country was an oasis of beauty and tranquility, and the moment I arrived I felt held. I hiked Nepal's mountains, photographed its historic sites, drank chai with locals, and went through cleansing rituals with holy men.

When a 7.9 earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, 2015, and a powerful aftershock followed, I stood in shock and heartbreak, as did much of the world. My intuition again told me to return, and within days I was on a flight to Kathmandu.

Nothing could have prepared me for what awaited. The historic sites I once relished were rubble and dust, and death filled the air with a constant reminder of what once was. Astrologers preached that another quake was coming, this time one more destructive. I awoke several times at night to real and perceived aftershocks.

I began to understand the aftermath by slowly observing and connecting with my medium-format film camera. I documented still-lifes and made portraits while listening to people's stories. From the families who were once strangers now sharing a home under a small tent, to the Irishmen who survived the earthquake on Mount Everest and fundraised to personally distribute relief materials, I felt like I had a window into a kind of humanity that no one else knew about. It was still Nepal.

Sara Hylton in the village of Shankarpur, Nepal on May 25, 2015 (Prashanth Vishwanathan)

An Act of God

“Durga, Durga,” a woman repeated, as she pointed at the destruction of her village. Durga, the Hindu Goddess of creation, preservation, and annihilation, is widely worshipped among the Nepalese. Durga was a consistent theme in the way the Nepalese hypothesized what happened to their land and their people. Many believe it was an act of God.

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