John Berger on photography:
The true content of a photograph is invisible, for it derives from a play, not with form but with time.... A photograph, while recording what has been seen, always and by its nature refers to what is not seen.... A photograph is effective when the chosen moment which it records contains a quantum of truth which is generally applicable, which is as revealing about what is absent from the photograph as about what is present in it.... Every photograph is in fact a means of testing, confirming, and constructing a total view of reality.
Prior to photographing an image, I think about what I want to convey with the photograph. Sometimes the end result is what I’ve intended and sometimes it’s a surprise to me. I also take great pleasure in knowing that there will be myriad unique interpretations based on viewers’ individual life experiences.
I am a photographer, writer and editor residing in New York's Hudson River Valley with my husband and son. I serve on the board of Citta, an organization that builds schools, women’s centers and hospitals in India and Nepal; am a published author and have traveled extensively in Tibet, Nepal and Thailand. I am also a red belt in Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan, voracious reader, crossword puzzle enthusiast, knitter and spinner, and student of Jungian psychology and Buddhism.
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In the summer of 1998, I decided I wanted to visit Tibet, Nepal and Thailand on my own. With only a back pack, Lonely Planet books and one change of clothes, I booked a round trip and was in Asia for a little over a month. I didn't go on a tour and basically winged my travels from their inception. It was one of the best experiences of my life. From this trip, my love of photography was born.
From Kathmandu, I found a driver to take me to Lhasa, Tibet, about 3 days and 15 hours of driving each day. It could've been spread out but the driver was intent on getting me to the capital city as quickly as possible as I wanted to travel to Tsurphu, which is only around 40 miles from Lhasa, but because of the mountainous terrain, it takes a few hours to get there.
The driver always had a hunk of yak cheese lodged in his cheek and would look back at me, amused and steering with one hand as I screamed in terror for fear our Land Rover would go over the side of the mountain where an unlucky bus or truck had already met its fate and was lying a few thousand feet down the steep cliff.
Being driven five or so hours in the dark to find the road washed out, necessitating a turn around and another five hours back from whence we came; stopping at La-Lung La Pass for carburetor adjustments at 16000+ feet; a night in a mud hut where I awoke to realize I was holding my breath (to compensate for the thinner atmosphere); and a landslide at Nyalam are just some of the memories that will stay with me forever.
The Nyalam landslide necessitated an overnight stay in the Tibetan border town of Zhangmu (and a nerve wracking night as well as I'd had my passport taken away by a Chinese official who didn't like the way I spoke to him when I was applying for my "visa endorsement." He told me I could get it in the morning and when I asked why he was doing this, he told me he was the leader and he had the power.) Some very kind Tibetans offered to put me up for $1 and I spent a sleepless night on a wooden bed with a few damp quilts, a drunken man barging into the room in the middle of the night and an animal carcass hanging outside of my window.
The next day was further exasperating as we had a three hour wait on the road for a blast to clear the huge boulders that had spilled down the mountain owing to a landslide. The men in the photo above are fierce Khampa warriors from the Eastern Tibetan region of Kham and they were my sole source of entertainment when I said goodbye to my driver and waited for the road to be cleared and for another vehicle coming from Lhasa to turn around and take me to the capital city. The road was cleared after dynamite blasts (and no warning as I ran to take cover under a bus that was one of the other unlucky vehicles on our side) but there was also a gaping crevasse that a vehicle could not traverse but that I had to get across if I wanted to get to Lhasa.
The Khampas were incredibly friendly, chivalrous and brave as well as curious about me (a woman traveling alone in such a remote part of the world) and we sat and communicated in my broken and very rudimentary Tibetan but also were able to chant Padmasambhava's Seven Line Prayer together as my Tibetan is pretty decent when it comes to Buddhist chanting. Once we were given the go ahead, these men helped me across the yawning crevasse, joking and laughing at my terror that I might slip and fall to my death. This was just another day for them as one shouldered my pack and the rest surrounded me and ensured my safe passage across a deadly jumble of rocks.