Mysterious and magnificent, Tibet has for centuries been a source of fascination for outsiders and a captivating yet troublesome subject for photographers. The country is both geographically and politically challenging, and access has never been easy. Even today, photography of Tibet often remains embroiled in debates about the country’s past, present and future. This book is the first historical survey of photography in Tibet and the Himalayas, and it offers remarkable new insights into the attempts of both foreign and Tibetan photographers to document the region.
Leading Tibetologist Clare Harris combines the results of extensive research in museums and archives with her own fieldwork in Tibetan communities to present material that has never been made public or discussed before. This includes the earliest known photographs taken in Tibet, dating to 1863, the experimental camerawork of senior Tibetan monks – including the 13th Dalai Lama – and the creations of contemporary Tibetan photographers and artists. With every image she examines the complex religious, political and cultural climate in which it was produced. Featuring stunning photographs throughout, Photography and Tibet will appeal to anyone interested in the history of Tibet and its unique entanglement with aesthetics and modernity.
‘Photography and Tibet is an invaluable introduction to the multiple ways that Tibet has been depicted through photography. I hope this book will enable the general public to have an idea of the rich and ancient Buddhist culture of Tibet, with its natural heritage of nonviolence and compassion, which has the potential to benefit humanity at large. I therefore welcome this book.’ – His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
‘This expansive, intricate and virtuosic account offers a radical rethinking of photography's relationship with Tibet. Rejecting orientalist narratives of that relationship, Clare Harris addresses the entangled political and cultural dynamics of the medium, from the colonial period to 21st century, through which Tibetan culture has been understood and understands itself.’ – Elizabeth Edwards, Professor Emerita in the Photographic History Research Centre, De Monfort University
‘A wonderful survey-cum-detective story about the multiple locations of Tibet, and the role of the camera in making them visible. We come to understand the heavy burden of representation in this context, and the remarkable tenacity of “aura” when the photograph attempts to suture the wounds of exile. This a compelling and authoritative account, filled with important new materials and vivid connections, that takes us to the heart of practices caught in the crossfire of different visions of Tibet.’ – Christopher Pinney, Professor of Anthropology and Visual Culture, University College London
Clare Harris is Professor of Visual Anthropology at the University of Oxford, Curator for Asian Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum and a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. Her previous award-winning publications include The Museum on the Roof of the World: Art, Politics and the Representation of Tibet (2012) and In the Image of Tibet: Tibetan Painting after 1959 (Reaktion, 1999).