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"Visually & Respectfully Yours"- The Story of Tibetan Photo Project

Visually and Respectfully Yours - the Story of The Tibetan Photo Project'
By Debbie L. Holmer
Fort Bragg Advocate News and Mendocino Beacon

A photographer for over 30 years, local resident Joe Mickey's first contact with Tibetan monks began on the Mendocino stop of a 2000 American cultural tour, which led to an opportunity for a photo-op and an interview with a lama, or monk. After reading accounts of the terrible atrocities the Tibetans have suffered at the hands of the Chinese government, Mickey decided to do some research on the subject.

Little did Mickey know that when he first sent a simple single-use camera to a Tibetan monk living in a monastery in Southern India, it was the beginning of a story that, so far, has been told to 26 million readers of U.S. newspapers and magazines.

The inspiring images of The Tibetan Photo Project have evolved into two traveling exhibits created through a grant to Centenary College by the Louisiana Endowment for the Arts, and by Antioch College for tour of the Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Yellow Springs, Ohio and Seattle campus locations.

Last year, The Tibetan Photo Project supplied a professional level video camera and computer editing bay to Tenzin Wangden Andtrugtsang, a former secretary at the office of the Dalai Lama in Northern India, and he produced the documentary, "Voices in Exile."

"Visually and Respectfully Yours - The Story of The Tibetan Photo Project" will both break your heart and uplift your soul. The Dalai Lama once said, "Our prime purpose in this life is to help others, and if you don't help them, at least don't hurt them." After watching this documentary, you will want to be one of those who helps.

Oh sure, when we think of Tibet, often called the "Roof of the World," a lot of us envision that fictional place called Shangri-La, described in the 1933 novel "Lost Horizon" by British author James Hilton. The story of Shangri-La is based upon the concept of Shambhala, in Tibetan Buddhist tradition, a mystical kingdom hidden somewhere beyond the snowpeaks of the Himalayas.

"Visually and Respectfully Yours" starts with a horror story - the beginning of China's takeover of Tibet in 1949 and the violent invasion in 1959. Communist China overran and subsequently occupied the country, ultimately causing the deaths of 1.2 million Tibetans by execution, forced labor, imprisonment, starvation and torture. The gain for China was a land mass roughly equal to the size of Europe.

There were once 6,000 monasteries in Tibet - now there are 13. Over 135,000 Tibetans live in exile and thousands more escape into Nepal and India each year. These refugees are scattered across India living on colonies, land given to them by the government of India. This year Mickey was allowed to visit one of the colonies, which are highly restricted to outsiders.

The film was made on what Mickey calls a "begging bowl budget." It is full of color - bright color - and contrasts. You'll see the young people of India shopping at malls and riding motorcycles wearing tight jeans. You'll see the beggars, young and old alike, entertaining their public. You'll see street urchins doing their cute little dances, the snake charmers, the hordes of people in the cities and beautiful, picturesque countryside. This land, however, is a world away from what the Tibetans once knew as their homeland. This land is no Shambhala.

The documentary combines archival war footage and historical stills, shots of magnificent ancient wood carvings and exquisite fabrics, and you'll even see star-struck beauties prancing down the runway in the annual Miss Tibet beauty pageant! You'll visit Dharamsala, the northern city many Tibetans now call home. You'll hear interviews with the exiled Tibetans, their thoughts, their dreams. After all these years of exile, they still want to go home.

Their voices need to be heard and you will hear them in this documentary. And then you will want to hear more. We must always remember the reason for this exile - the Chinese government, a military and economic force to be reckoned with.

Those of us from the "me" generation will ask, "What's in all this for me?" As one Tibetan monk said, "There is nothing in it for us, except that it is right!"

There is no Western influence in "Visually and Respectfully Yours." At the end, you'll sit there and want to know why we haven't been made more aware of the Tibetans' plight. Well, now you are. Their predicament and travails belong to the world. You don't have to be a follower of Buddhist teachings.

Mickey and his collaborators in The Tibetan Photo Project show us that the "strength of their peaceful struggle holds a mirror for the world to see the reflection of the brutal nature of the leadership in Beijing. It's important to remember, Beijing's brutal policies remain intact today."

Mickey, along with his fellow collaborator, Sazzy Varga, is using this film in an effort to create The Tibetan Photo Project Filmmaking Education Center that will be established in the Tibetan communities of Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj in Northern India.

Please do not miss the opportunity to see and  hear their heart-rending story yourself.


Visually and Respectfully Yours
The Story of the Tibetan Photo Project
Produced by Joe Mickey & Sazzy Varga

Reviewed By Sita Stuhlmiller
Light of Consciousness Magazine

If you ask Joe Mickey he will tell you that it all began with a letter to Jamyang Norbu, a monk he had sponsored at Drepung Monastery in south India. “When I sent my first letter I also sent along a disposable camera and I didn’t know what I was going to get back…” After receiving prints from Jamyang, Joe realized that he was seeing “nothing less than a magical view into another world.”

That was in 2000 and three years later the first Tibetan Photo Project exhibit opened at Antioch College in Santa Barbara with photos taken by Jamyang and other monks from Drepung. We featured images from the project in Light of Consciousness in 2004 and in 2005 reviewed their first documentary, Voices in Exile. In January 2006 Joe visited India for the first time and brought back an inspiring video tapestry of his experiences with the Tibetans India has sheltered since the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959.

Traveling through India, Joe captures the heart and soul of the Tibetan culture that has thrived there in the past half century. In the south Indian town of Mungod, Karnatka, he meets Jamyang Norbu for the first time and gives exquisite footage of the monasteries that surround Drepung. He also meets another self-taught photographer and former monk, Lobsang Topgyal, whose father had fled Tibet with the Dalai Lama. Lobsang takes him on a three-day tour of monasteries, temples, schools and a senior care center generally inaccessible to westerners. Especially endearing is the footage of scores of monks at a monastery teaching with small tea-runners skittering to fill the cups of young monks and their elders and the boys scattering like a flock of birds the moment the teaching ends.

In north India we view scenes around McLeod Ganj and adjacent Dharamsala—landscapes filled with prayer flags, monasteries, temples and schools; lanes filled with exotic shops and plenty of local color. Dharamsala is the home of the Dalai Lama and the film gives some unique glimpses of His Holiness. Joe meets Tenzin Wangden Andrugtsang, who, under the encouragement and sponsorship of the Tibetan Photo Project, created "Voices in Exile," the first documentary on contemporary Tibetan culture produced entirely by a Tibetan. Wangden continues to send photos to the project.

Proceeds from this heart-warming film will be used to support the creation of two Tibetan Photo Project Filmmaker Education Centers in India.

72 minute DVD © 2006 Tibetan Photo Project. Available for a $10 donation. They offer DVDs at no charge to Tibet support organizations for public awareness and fundraising.




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