MARCH 2000 NEWS
PORTRAITS AND PROSE OF TIBETANS IN EXILE
Tue, 07 Mar 2000
Harrison originated from conversation with Tibetans who had been imprisoned and severely punished by Chinese guards for uttering their daily prayers. Despite unbelievable hardships, the prayers endured. As current as today's news of refugees experiencing atrocities, accounts of illness and/or malnutrition, and reports of challenges with language barriers, culture shock and joblessness, WHISPERED PRAYERS visually and verbally portrays the willingness of all to risk everything for freedom, education, and a better life.
Coupling inspiring narratives with exquisite photographic portraits, the author/photographer brings to life the inner experience of being a Tibetan refugee in exile. Harrison has combined his years of experience in fine art photography with an equally long practice as a psychiatrist to produce a sensitive and artistic documentation of a world that exists today and yet seems far removed from our own. Riveting tales of extraordinary journeys, gleaned from countless hours of getting to know each of his subjects, are skillfully interwoven with seven commentaries on the nature of man.
An innovative aspect of the book is the use of the landscape or panoramic format in portraiture. Traditionally used for photographing natural settings or large groupings of people, the large format camera here has been used to portray each subject in a formal portrait. This unusual format promotes the exploration of form and provides added space for enhancing the images.
Beginning with his first trip to India in 1996, Harrison's efforts to record and photograph life among the Tibetans took three years to complete, required three separate trips to India, and created many logistic challenges.
His film cases and gear alone weighed in at 400 pounds. In addition to the difficulty of creating a lightproof room to change film for such a large camera, dust was an inevitable enemy. Then, upon each return to the states, there was the labor-intensive hand developing of several hundred sheets of film and the printing of negatives in platinum and palladium.
The results substantiate the effort. The prints' tones reveal the finest lines around the eyes of an old woman, the loose strands of hair over a young man's face, and every crack in a wall or pebble on the ground. The photographer's straightforward relationship with his subject yields a poignant quality reminiscent of THE FAMILY OF MAN.
The Foreword of the book, "Whispered Prayers":
His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, October 20, 1998
As a result of the present sad history of Tibet, there is hardly any Tibetan family that has not lost their dear ones or undergone suffering. Every Tibetan has a story to tell that is traumatic in content, but most end with a sense of hope for the future. This book by Stephen Harrison has given individual Tibetans of varying ages the opportunity to share with a wider audience their personal sad experiences and their responses to them.
I am encouraged to learn that after patiently listening to these stories, Dr. Harrison has discovered the "radiant lightheartedness, generosity, kindness and compassion" of these Tibetans, despite their traumatic experience of life under Chinese rule.I am deeply moved by both the words and images encapsulated in this book. Focusing on the lives of Tibetans who have undergone tremendous suffering, the book succeeds in portraying the courage and dignity of the people of Tibet. It is my sincere hope that such books will convince readers of the urgent need to end the suffering of the Tibetan people and that their influence will come to bear on the international community and the Chinese leadership. There are signs that this may happen. China's recent signing of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights may signal that in some not too distant future China will respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of not only the Chinese people but even the Tibetans too.
WTN-L World Tibet Network News