I have a lovely spread in the very first edition of this month’s Geo Extra (France) of my work on Kyudo in Japan. Focusing on the connection to Zen and the art of archery it is one of my favourite stories.
I discovered photography – and specifically photojournalism – in the final year of my politics degree. The catalyst for that process was a wonderful magazine called Photography that showcased the very best work, especially from that genre, with writers from the industry interviewing and commenting on significant and interesting work and, unlike most photography magazines, almost ignoring gadgetry and equipment.
One issue stood out for me and solidified my resolve to pursue photography as a career (despite having no portfolio nor ever having taken a photograph). It featured the work of Graham Harrison, already an established photographer who had been commissioned by the British Museum to take photographs in the Far East for their Buddhism: Art and Faith exhibition in 1985. This work is on show again at the University of Edinburgh from September the 12th and I hope will inspire a reprint of the book of the same title.
Some time ago I reviewed the book (as was) and here is what I said.
“It is honest and classic reportage and I looked at the images often. Harrison’s eye is delicate and respectful and one senses a desire to engage with the people in these images and their faith. The access is extraordinary: it is incredibly rare for example to be able photograph inside Eiheji, the headquarters of Soto Zen deep in the mountains of central Japan. Harrison’s work here captures the haste of a young novice scrubbing the wooden floors of the monastery in the ‘raw cold and semi-darkness of a late winter morning’ and the formal zazen of the rows of monks. His portrait of the Abbot of the monastery is as quiet and deceptively simple as is his landscape of the Potala Palace in Lhasa. His pictures of China in the chapter ‘Decline and Destruction’ are touchingly elegant showing what remained of a great culture. I think it’s true to say that Harrison’s photographs come close to capturing the quiet power of a way of life that is very difficult to describe in words.”
Happy Vesak (Vesakha) … not exactly the same date across all of the world but never mind…
The French news magazine L’Express have just published an assignment I made for them in February on Ogyen Trinley Dorje, His Holiness, the seventeenth reincarnation of The Karmapa Lama in Sarnath, northern India. The Karmapa is head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and predates the Dalai Lama’s lineage. This particular incarnation is disputed however and another candidate, Trinley Thaye Dorje has also been proclaimed and enthroned in another part of India. There’s a reasonable discussion on the succession issues here.
In any case, the assignment gave me a three-fold opportunity.
Firstly, I had the pleasure of meeting the Karmapa, a shy and I thought rather melancholy figure – a bird in a gilded cage if ever there was one – whose keen interest in photography was restricted to photographing the outside world from his window. The child of nomads, he ‘escaped’ from his Chinese hosts first to Nepal and then to India from where he was supposed to conduct a european tour this summer only to be thwarted by the refusal of the Indian authorities to grant him an exit visa. Which has of course nothing to do with Chinese pressure.
Secondly, I had the chance to go back to one of my favourite cities, Varanasi – one of its many names – I think the most intriguing of all north Indian cities.
Thirdly, I had the pleasure to work with Marc Epstein, the charming Foreign Editor of L’Express with whom I managed to put the world to rights over long walks along the ghats of a city we both hadn’t visited for a couple of years. I managed to explain the relative intricacies of cricket to a Frenchman who was curious of all the sporting activity along the river and made him an honoury Tottenham Hotspur fan for his trouble. For this of course, I apologised in advance: an inevitable entrée to a world of pain and disappointment…