Tibetan Stories: the photographs
For three years I lived and worked in Dharamsala, India while commissioned to direct the short film series, Tibetan Stories, by the International Center for Mental Health & Human Rights. Conceived as a series of Buddhist morality tales, each film explores the life of a different member of the Tibetan diaspora in India, while addressing themes of identity, culture, trauma, resiliency, and compassion. The following is a collection of photographs taken between 2012 and 2015, during our period of principal production.
The Kalachakra Initiation
The Kalachakra is a traditional Buddhist teaching given by the Dalai Lama periodically, and in recent years conducted within Western cities as well. In 2012, the ceremonial event was held in Bodhgaya, India, the site where the historical/mythological Buddha, Shakyamuni, was said to have first achieved enlightenment under a Bodhi tree. Given the choice of locations, over 200,000 attendees were estimated to have descended on the small city, including a large number of stateless Tibetans living in India, and others who clandestinely traveled from within Tibet to be a part of the landmark event. Given the political conflict and Chinese distrust of the Dalai Lama as a "separatist", returning Tibetans were said to have been held within an interrogation and re-programing camp for months upon re-entering Tibet.
The Ngoenga School
The Department of Health of the Tibetan government in exile established the Ngoenga School for Tibetan Children with Special Needs in Dehradun, India in the year 2000. At no cost to their families, the boarding school care for and educates fifty children with a diverse range of disabilities. Ngoenga is Tibetan for "great joy."
Dharamsala is a small mountain town in northern India within the foothills of the Himalayas. The outpost has been the exile home of the 14th Dalai Lama since 1959 and the site of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), which constitutes the Tibetan government in exile. For decades, as many a thousand Tibetans defected to India a year to avoid oppression and assimilation from communist Chinese authorities, however, today there is a reverse flow of Tibetans back into Tibet or abroad. Meanwhile, other members of the diaspora attempt to create identities and livelihoods for themselves outside of Tibet, including individuals born into exile, now living throughout India, Europe, Australia, and North America. For most, Dharamsala represents the cultural and political center of the diaspora, which is also known as "Dhasa," a portmanteau between Dharamsala and Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet.