Faces of Enlightenment

Photographer Don Farber discusses portraiture, reincarnation, the Dalai Lama, and thirty years of Buddhism through his lens.

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In 1977, as Americans searched for ways to cope with the residual anguish of the Vietnam War, twenty-five-year-old Don Farber began visiting the Vietnamese Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles to photograph its refugee community and learn about their Buddhist traditions. He eventually published the photographs as a collection, along with text by Rick Fields, in Taking Refuge in L.A.: Life in a Vietnamese Buddhist Temple. Over the years, Farber continued to visit Buddhist communities in the United States and traveled to Buddhist countries throughout Asia, producing three more books of photographs. His iconic portraits of Tibetan masters, including early images of the Dalai Lama, have earned him a reputation as a preeminent photographer of living Buddhism. Last year, Farber published Living Wisdom With His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a multimedia box set that includes over four hundred images of the Dalai Lama spanning twenty-five years. This past spring Farber and his family visited Tricycle’s New York office, where we spoke about his three decades of Buddhist photography.
—Alexandra Kaloyanides, Senior Editor


Kalu Rinpoche

When did you start taking portrait-style photographs of Tibetan masters? In 1988, I did a portrait of Kalu Rinpoche in New Mexico, a few months before he died. That picture became very special to his followers and went everywhere. At Kalu Rinpoche’s funeral in Darjeeling, I took a photo of two little monks that also became very well known. Right after the funeral, I rushed back to L.A. to photograph the Kalachakra given by the Dalai Lama in 1989. Two of the portraits I made of His Holiness then became classics, even icons. In fact, one of them is on thousands of pendants worn by people all over the world.

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