September 19, 2012
Tricycle's Fall 2012 issue features the stunning, black-and-white photos of Nicholas Vreeland: a monk, professional photographer, and newly-appointed abbot of Rato Dratsang monastery. (He also happens to be the grandson of fashion icon Diana Vreeland.) The first Westerner to be appointed abbot of a Tibetan monastery, H.H. the Dalai Lama told him upon his appointment that "his special duty was to be a bridge between the Tibetan tradition and the Western world." Born to diplomat parents in Geneva, Switzerland, and subsequently dividing his childhood among Germany, Morocco, and the United States, Vreeland is a unique bridge, indeed.
In 2010, “Photos for Rato,” a worldwide exhibition of Vreeland’s photographs, helped to fund the $500,000 reconstruction of Rato Dratsang monastery, a Tibetan monastery founded in the 14th century, currently being rebuilt in the south Indian state of Karnataka. In March 2012, Vreeland was appointed abbot of Rato Dratsang.
You can see a portfolio of Vreeland's photographs in Tricycle here and read our all-new interview with him here. Below, in a short excerpt from the interview, Vreeland relates his experiences of photographing the Dalai Lama.
You’ve photographed the Dalai Lama several times and the Tibet Center has a relationship with him; the New York Times once called you his “point man” in New York. Were you nervous meeting him for the first time? Yes, I was particularly nervous. I met him for the first time in 1979. I was photographing him with this big wooden view camera. I was told that I only had a very short amount of time to take the photo, and there was very, very little light. Due to the kind of film I was using and the equipment I was using, I realized that the exposure was going to have to be very long; it was going to have to be a minute. A minute is a long time to sit absolutely still!
So I set everything up and I chose a chair that His Holiness would sit in so that he would not be able to move. His Holiness came in and sat and I explained the situation. I’d take the slide out and then click the shutter and after about 40 seconds His Holiness would start to swivel in his chair and we would have to do another and another and another. Finally, His Holiness burst into laughter and it totally diffused the situation. I asked if he would stand against a wall instead and I took my picture; in one minute His Holiness did not move at all.
So the tension that had developed produced this whole other situation many years later when I photographed His Holiness at Rato Monastery in 2002. I was all ready this time; His Holiness stood there and I took my picture. I moved a little closer. I had been asked to take a photograph of His Holiness without his glasses, in profile. When I made that request His Holiness looked at me and said, “I know you’re trying to photograph my nose. But it’ll never be as big as yours.”
Image: One of Nicholas Vreeland's photos of H.H. the Dalai Lama.