Category Archives: Photography

REVIEW: temple walls | japan, by Ryuten Paul Rosenblum

temple walls | japan
Ryuten Paul Rosenblum
2017
48 pages
14.5 x 23.5 cm
Hard cover / Accordion binding

Zen Buddhist practice is sometimes called “wall-gazing” meditation, a reference both to Bodhidharma — the sect’s purported founder’s — and his nine years meditating while facing a monastery (or, cave) wall, but also to Zen’s eschewing of meditation aids like paintings and statutes. The walls of ancient Zen temples and monasteries have been the companions and unyielding support for the practice of countless practitioners. This presence, and their non-objective forms (and perhaps these are the same thing), are captured in Paul Rosenblum‘s photographs of temple walls in Japan.

A wall is also symbol of renunciation: the Buddhist meditator has turned away from the world, quite literally.

The images are small squares of wall, thus converting the age and detail of stone, glaze, cracks, woodgrain, weathering into images that call to mind camera-less Polaroids, blurred landscapes, and gesture paintings. However, such imaginations are not Rosenblum’s purpose in creating these images. Rather, “practice is about seeing the mind in all things, even the most commonplace/everyday/simple/mundane. The temples and monasteries that I visited are widely know, even revered by some. For me, my ‘interaction’ with simple, taken for granted things like walls was infused a feeling of honor and respect for the practice that has taken place in them for centuries. I feel each is the body of a Buddha; our practice is what makes it vividly alive in this moment.” (This and other quotations from a personal email from the photographer.)

Rosenblum is a linage holder in the Zen tradition of Dongshan and Dōgen and spends part of each year serving as Vice Abbot of Genrinji, a Zen Temple in the Germany.

 

These photographs present a radically different view of well-known sites: from the usual architectural, viewer-to-object-oriented, or tourist-friendly Zen gardens, to a quite intimate one that asks for more from the viewer than one-to-one identification of things. It is easier to focus on things planned to be focused on, it is harder to focus on what is more ever-present, sitting firmly in the background (like the mind). The images are”intended as a way to support seeing without thinking predominating.”

One’s attention falls into habit, thus seeing more traditional image of a Buddhist temple tends merely to provoke the mind to recollect the idea of a temple through image-association. These images, radically deconstructed ones of Buddhist temples, urge the eye and mind to work a little harder.

That said, the images have a beauty that one finds absent any heavy mental-lifting. This is to say that they have formal qualities akin to some 20th century western art (whether or not this visual/intellectual impact is akin in some way to Buddhist ways of seeing is an open question).

The book itself is a lovely object, an accordion bound, limited edition by Datz Press of Seoul, Korea. The cover stock, inside cover material, paper, and ink all show attention to a somewhat unrefined aesthetic. (The choice to render titles in all lower case does strike me as a touch precious; a minor point in a design that intelligently and sensitively supports the artist’s intention.)

I particularly appreciate this book as it presents new ways of putting images and seeing toward Buddhist practice. Books like this one reveal that there are more ways of using images toward practice than the well-known use of mandalas and thangkas.

~ Jonathan Ciliberto

 

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UM Museum Opens Photography Exhibit of Buddhist Caves

mogao-cave-north-wall-1943

The exhibit “Dunhuang through the Lens of James and Lucy Lo” is now open at the UM Museum.

Images from China illustrate artistic and architectural achievements

JANUARY 16, 2017 BY CHRISTINA STEUBE

OXFORD, Miss. – Photographs of the intricately painted Mogao and Yulin Caves in Dunhuang, China are on exhibit at the University of Mississippi Museum.

“Dunhuang Through the Lens of James and Lucy Lo” features photographs taken of the caves by the Los in the 1940s. The nearly 500 caves containing artwork are in the northwestern area of China along the ancient Silk Road and are a major Buddhist pilgrimage site. The caves, which served as spaces for meditation and worship, were painted between the fourth and 14th centuries.
The exhibit opened Jan. 10 in conjunction with the Southeast Conference of the Association for Asian Studies, held on the UM campus Jan. 13-15. The free exhibit runs through April 29, and an opening reception is set for 6-8 p.m. Jan. 31.

Joshua Howard, Croft associate professor of history and international studies and a Chinese historian, proposed this exhibit to the University Museum.

“These photographs have high artistic value,” Howard said. “James and Lucy Lo used natural light and often placed mirrors in the caves to create special lighting effects and create a sense of the caves’ spirituality.

“James Lo also experimented with his photo angles; for instance, shooting a 50-foot reclining Buddha from the vantage point of the head of the statue rather than from the feet looking toward the head. The result is a more intimate and serene shot of the Buddha. Other landscape photos they took give a sense of the harsh but beautiful desert terrain the caves inhabit.”
The collection of 31 black-and-white photographs is from the Lo Archive and the P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art at Princeton University. The Mogao and Yulin caves illustrate artistic and architectural achievements, as well as provide an intimate look at the history of Buddhism and other religions of the region.

Museum officials were excited about the opportunity to open the exhibit to conference attendees, said Robert Saarnio, museum director. The conference included workshops, panel discussions, lectures and film screenings of Asian poetry and literature, history, language, art, philosophy and politics.

“These are exactly the kinds of multidisciplinary and cross-campus partnerships that the museum seeks to foster and welcome, wherein great art and artifact content can be exhibited in such close correspondence to curricular, research and teaching endeavors,” Saarnio said.
The museum, at the corner of University Avenue and Fifth Street, is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

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The Buddhists Vs. The Billionaire

03Radio Free Europe
PHOTOGRAPHY AND TEXT BY AMOS CHAPPLE

In Russia’s Ural Mountains, a small group of Buddhists led by a veteran of the U.S.S.R.’s Afghanistan war has spent the past 21 years establishing a monastery on an isolated mountaintop. But it sits on land claimed by a company belonging to one of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs. After years of delays, a date has now been set for the complex’s removal. RFE/RL’s Amos Chapple visited the monastery for the inside story.

[follow the link for the the rest…]

A Tibetan monk is communicating with the world through his stunning Instagram feed

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 7.51.58 PM
Will Haskell

Jul. 17, 2015, 3:28 PM 39,463 1

The life of a Buddhist monk is filled with study, meditation, and… Instagram?

That’s the case for @gdax, or Gedun Wangchuk. He’s a Buddhist monk living and Instagramming in Tibet, Huffington Post reports.

His account, first spotted by the blog Redbubble, depicts the beauty and peace of his daily life. Instagram itself appears to be the only outlet that’s been able to get in contact with the hard-to-track-down Wangchuk. They interviewed him for their blog.

Wangchuk’s account features shots of the Tibetan countryside, wildlife, his fellow monks, and places of worship. He even posts the occasional video.

[link]

A photobook in search of context and sequence: The Monks Of Rural Thailand

monks rural thailandReview by Jeffrey Martin

Cracker, Lee. The Monks Of Rural Thailand. San Francisco: Blurb, 2014.

While American photographer Lee Cracker’s images have appeared in mass circulation publications, he has taken lately to self-publishing a number of Thai-based projects, including books on the 2014 coup and a collection of Bangkok street images.  If these are in any way similar to this volume on Buddhist monastics, they would benefit greatly from an editor familiar with the topic, and more fundamentally with visual narration.

The electronic version of The Monks of Rural Thailand is a 71-page pdf containing several lovely images of Thai bhikkhus engaged in typical monastic behavior. The images are accompanied by a brief description of Thai monasticism and a handful of Buddha quotes on the nature of suffering and liberation.  

cracker 04

One of the impressive images featured in The Monks of Rural Thailand.

But the story, such as there is, feels incomplete and lacking direction.  Most of the images appear to have been taken at public events.  There are few private moments, such as monks in their quarters, or monks studying, or monks meditating.  But even if there were, it might be difficult for viewers unfamiliar with their world to understand what they are seeing.  Perhaps Cracker prefers a visual presentation that doesn’t require text, but I suppose the average viewer coming to this book would like to know what is pictured.  As someone who has studied Buddhism formally, as well as practiced among Asian Buddhists, I have some familiarity with Buddhist monastics, but even so a few of the images in this collection left me wondering exactly what was happening.  Cracker doesn’t even tell us in what part of Thailand these photos were taken.  In addition, sequencing is opaque.  There appear to be a set number of activities – praying, walking alms rounds, receiving donations, and taking part in ordination ceremonies – but the images are not suitably grouped and some seem to have no particular value in telling a story. Continue reading

Jizo, Snow

Hiroshi Hamaya: New Year’s Visit with Jizo, Niigata Prefecture, 1940

Hiroshi Hamaya: New Year’s Visit with Jizo, Niigata Prefecture, 1940

The above image, showing young Japanese trekking through deep snow with a Buddhist statute, appears in the article “The Japan Beneath the Snow,” by Ian Buruma in New York Review of Books.

Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860 – About the Exhibition

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 9.32.44 AMVictoria and Albert Museum
24 June – 11 October 2015
Photography, Room 38a
Admission free

This captivating exhibition of the pioneering 19th-century British photographer Captain Linnaeus Tripe features over 60 of his most striking views of Indian and Burmese landscape and architecture, taken between 1852-1860. Through these early photographs, Tripe explored the possibilities of this new medium, showcasing and documenting archaeological sites, monuments and landscapes, rarely seen in the West. Tripe creates an impression of the world around him, combining the keen eye of a surveyor with the sensibilities of an artist, while giving testimony to his emerging skills as photographer.

Organised by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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Linnaeus Tripe, Pugahm Myo: Thapinyu Pagoda, August 20-24, 1855. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Buddy Taub Foundation, Dennis A. Roach and Jill Roach, Directors, and Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2012. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Linnaeus Tripe, Pugahm Myo: Thapinyu Pagoda, August 20-24, 1855. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Buddy Taub Foundation, Dennis A. Roach and Jill Roach, Directors, and Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2012. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art