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220 × 190 × 15 mm
224 pages
110 illustrations, 60 in colour
01 Oct 2016

Photography and Tibet Clare Harris

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

Photography and Tibet is a richly informative and a hugely entertaining read . . . The bottom line – for anyone with a passion for photography or Tibet, ideally both, this is an absolute must-have book.’ — Jamyang Norbu, Shadow Tibet

‘Clare Harris’s wonderful Photography and Tibet is part of the Reaktion Books Exposures series, which provides introductions to the history of photography related to specific themes and regions. Photography and Tibet accomplishes this in providing a much-needed introduction to the history of photography in Tibet and surrounding regions of the Himalayas. However, Harris gives us much more, as along with this historical overview, she reveals how the history of photography in Tibet can also be seen as the history of the way Tibet has been imagined beyond its borders by Westerners, Chinese, and others, and how this imagining has directly influenced colonial engagement with Inner Asia and the Himalayas.’ — Trans Asia Photography Review

‘The narrative is lively and engaging with excellent reference notes, bit it is the many and varied photographs that are the main focus. As the author wryly observes, these often say more about the photographers themselves than they do about their subjects . . . This is a highly absorbing and important book. It should appeal to the general reader but particularly to those with an interest in Tibetan history and the role of photography as a promoter of truth and artistic ability.’ — Asian Affairs

‘Written in a lively and concise style, the book makes sense of an impressive array of material in the limited format allowed by the series. Following the series policy to discard the “deadening prose of academia”, this tour de force is deliberately intended for the general reader interested in an up-to-date introduction to the history of the representation and reception of Tibet through photographs taken by both Westerners and Tibetans. The book will nonetheless be of benefit to the scholarly community, since it presents so-far unresearched archive material, raises important issues of colonial history and Western material and visual cultures that the case of Tibet highlights particularly well, and provides reciprocally unprecedented developments on the assimilation of the technology of photography by Tibetans up to this day.’ — Bulletin of SOAS

Photography and Tibet brings to the fore a selection of remarkable work presented in an accessible and engaging way. This is an inspiring book from which students and researchers alike will derive great benefit, and one which also has wider resonance for historical geographers working with visual archives in very different contexts.’ — Journal of Historical Geography

‘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

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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).

Note on Language


One: Picturing Tibet from the Periphery

Two: The Opening of Tibet to Photography

Three: Tibetan Encounters with the Camera



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Photo Acknowledgements