When a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit central Nepal last month, the scale of the destruction was, at first, hard to assess. The few images that first emerged from the devastated country were, in some cases, spectacular in scope but lacking the proper information that would inform observers, especially families of potential victims, about the earthquake’s true impact.
A small community of photographers in Nepal and India, led by writer Tara Bedi and photographer Sumit Dayal, felt the need to pull its resources together “to collectively put out useful and credible information from people that we know and trust on the ground, all under one banner,” Bedi tells TIME.
That banner is the Nepal Photo Project, which they launched on Instagram and Facebook on April 26, a few hours after the earthquake hit.
Crowdsourcing images and information from its network of photographers — including Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati, Bhushan Shilpakar, Saagar Chhetri, Kishor Sharma and Shikhar Bhattarai — the Nepal Photo Project has, in just a few days, become a repository for human-interest photographs and stories.
“Our goal with NPP is to put out as much useful and helpful information as possible,” says Bedi. “Our main parameter for what we post is pretty simple: that it should communicate something purposeful or meaningful — be it the damage and devastation, links to reliable fundraising campaigns, photographs of missing people so they can be circulated as widely as possible, coverage of rescue and relief operations, citizen volunteer initiatives, links to resources like quakemap.org, [or] other relevant articles and images.”
The group also sources images from other contributors, as long as they are tagged with #nepalphotoproject.
Bedi doesn’t see the Nepal Photo Project as a news-wire feed. “It’s much more personal,” she says. “Photographers have the freedom to express in a more ‘real’ and humane way and I think people connect to that.”
While the group’s Instagram feed is dedicated to the visual representation of this crisis, the Facebook group has become the nerve center where, for example, calls for volunteers and missing-person notices are issued.
The group chose Instagram and Facebook because “it is becoming evident that people tend to consume news and information through images,” says Dayal. “Nepal Photo Project is our way of attempting to make sure that the visuals become more functional and personal in nature as opposed to just devastation porn.”
Plus, “Instagram is super user-friendly,” he adds. “The search capabilities for hashtags and geo-tagged images have proved to be very useful to us for finding new contributors and verifying their authenticity.”
As Nepal slowly recovers from the earthquake, the group is already planning its future mission. “Kathmandu’s major monuments now exist only in photographs,” says Dayal. “One of the biggest realizations of the earthquake is the importance of ‘proper’ visual documentation. It’s quite difficult to comprehend that the next generation of Nepali children will grow up without this architecture that infused a vital cultural identity. As Nepal rebuilds itself, we intend to continue our work of sharing stories of human interest.”
Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.