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Return to the Roof of the World
Nicholas Vreeland
Return to the Roof of the World
Ed Barnas
 by Nicholas Vreeland. Source: en.leica-camera.com
Nicholas Vreeland

In 2003 the incarnate Lama Rhyongla Rato Rinpoche was invited to visit his birthplace in eastern Tibet, a country he fled in 1959 along with the Dalai Lama and many others. He asked his student, Buddhist monk and photographer, the Venerable Nicholas Vreeland, to accompany him and photograph this journey.

On a cursory pass, the thirty seven black and white prints comprising “Return to the Roof of the World” offer a classic photojournalistic record of Lama Rinpoche’s return to his birthplace, his monastery and his people (many of who had never seen their Lama.) Yet a journey of return is apt to arouse many emotions, both in those who return and those who remain.

On closer inspection you begin to notice details that take a number of the images up to another emotional level: the smile on Lama Rinpoche’s face as he sat cross-legged in casual western attire “on his Mountain” in Dagyab; the crowd of devotees covering a distant ridgeline to welcome him to Tibet; the smiles on the faces of the monks and the lay people receiving blessings in Ma Gon; the simple pleasure in the arrangement of prayer texts below a ferocious wall painting, to name a few.

And then there is the serenity and simple dignity in the portraits of people met along the road and of the monks in the monastery, as well as the intimacy of the interior images (Lama Rinpoche relaxing in his birthplace Wophor.)

 by Nicholas Vreeland. Source: en.leica-camera.com/culture/galleries/gallery_new_york/
Nicholas Vreeland

Forming an interesting contrast to the similarly large color portraits of Yogis by Thomas Kelly currently at the Rubin Museum (“Body Language: The Yogis of India and Nepal”,) are seven color portraits of important Buddhist teachers, including the Dalai Lama and two of his own teachers. Taken in 1979 and 1988 and reflecting the influence of Penn and Avedon whom Vreeland had assisted, these large-format, full-length portraits are formal, yet convey a feeling of casual intimacy and relaxation. Such details as the smile of the Dalai Lama, the way the text is held by Zopa Rinpoche, or the teapot by the Rain Maker are telling.

Nicholas Vreeland
Return to the Roof of the World


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