Living Buddhism – Graham Harrison

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.”


Photography Magazine March 1990