Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Eight Years

"Did you get some tea?
Let me get you some tea!"

"Did you get something to eat?
Let me get you some food!"

This is how things have gone now for the eight years that I have been photographing the culture of the Tibetan community in Seattle.  People are forever trying to feed me, to be kind.

"Thank you for always being here for us."

It seems like a lifetime ago that I began this project.  Young couples in the community have had babies, and elders have passed away.  I have gone from being an outsider, a stranger with a camera, to "Kurt la"  ("la" in Tibetan culture is a form of address that conveys respect, as in "Tashi la,"  or  "Tsering la.") 

But the pictures I make are not about me, and I try to walk the fine line of presence.  I can do the best and most honest work when people just ignore me.  But the reality of human interaction is that photographic "subjects" feel most comfortable when the "photographer" does not hide his or her human-ness.

When someone offers you tea, you smile and say thank you:  too-je-che.

I thought I'd share some recent pictures.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Seeing Tradition

One evening nearly every month members of the Tibetan community in Seattle gather in their Buddhist monastery,  and, in the language of their homeland, recite prayers for world peace, for good health for their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and for their countrymen still living in Tibet.

The Tibetan community here is vibrant, and, in addition to monthly prayers, there are other kinds of cultural events as well.  A week from now, for example, there will be a concert of modern Tibetan music.  And there are also observances of Tibetan holidays…and of the Dalai Lama's birthday…and traditional ceremonies  to celebrate marriages, or to mourn a death.

The prayers, however, strike me as a kind of centerpiece for the community.  In the eight years now that I have been photographically documenting Tibetan culture in the Pacific Northwest, I have only missed monthly prayers a very few times. 

The prayers are low-key and quiet, admittedly not even a blip on the radar of all that goes on in "big city"  Seattle. 

Nevertheless,  I have seen that gatherings like these bind a community together. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tibet Fest 2016

I wonder how often we Americans stop to realize how lucky we are: That we can stand on a street corner shouting grievances we might have about our government; that we can freely practice our religion of choice; that we can assemble and march in parades and celebrate American culture…or German or Japanese traditions…or whatever strikes our fancy.

There are, of course, many countries in our world where citizens can do none of the above without fear of being tossed into jail, or worse.  My Tibetan friends tell me that in Tibet they cannot even possess a picture of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

I spent Saturday and Sunday photographing Tibet Fest, held for 21 years now a stone's throw from the iconic Space Needle at the Seattle Center. The event is part of Seattle's "Festal" program which celebrates various world cultures that are parts of Seattle's melting pot human makeup.

The event is colorful, and wonderful, and I was proud of Seattle for hosting celebrations like this.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Daddy's back

The fellow responsible for the care and feeding of this blog -- that would of course be me -- has been a poor blog parent of late.  Daddy's attention has been focused, not here,  but on a new Instagram child I've recently adopted.

Until now, I have stubbornly avoided social media -- mostly, I guess, because it felt too much like high school ("LIKE me! PLEASE LIKE me!!!)  I see, however, that a lot of my photographer friends are doing Instagram. And so I bow to peer pressure.

We never completely get over high school, do we?

Anyway, I hafta admit that Instagram is kind of fun to do, though it seems like a one-off photographic forum: I do a hike,  or one of my shoots for the Seattle Tibetan community. I make maybe 500 pictures, but post only one on Instagram. This blog is a place where I think I'll show more backstory.

The images I'm posting here today are from two recent hikes/summit scrambles that my buds and I did in the North Cascades. I invite you to click on the images (particularly the top one, the panorama) to see them at a larger size.

And if you are curious, here is a link to my Instagram baby:


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Work it, work it...

When friends and I head into the mountains for a hike or climb, my buds half-jokingly refer to me as "The Expedition Photographer;" and typically I think they expect that I'll shoot photographs like you see above…images one might broadly refer to as "Scenic Beauty," or "Humans in the Wilderness."  I'm generally okay with that kind of categorization, as it offers a lot of creative wiggle-room. Most anything I shoot can fit into those two pigeon holes.

Once we return home, I go through my pictures and email a selection out to members of our group. We always have a great time on our hikes, and the photographs are a kind of after-the-fact celebration of the day we spent together.

On our most recent hike, however, the humans in our party, as well as the amazing wilderness, kind of got upstaged. We hikers had chosen Miller Pk. in the Central Washington Cascades as our ultimate destination for the day, and it took us several hours to get to the top. As we arrived and considered which summit rocks looked like the best spots for eating lunch and taking in the views, we realized we were not alone. A mountain goat wandered up, and, though he kept his distance -- we were happy for that because that fella had BIG, sharp-looking horns -- I swear he saw my camera and started posing.

He stood on this rock, and that. He strutted about in a way that reminded me of a body builder in competition, workin'-it, workin'-it  on stage, showing off his well-trained physique.

I think the goat was pretty full of his fine self, and the wonderful environment where he lived.

It's a good thing goats don't use smartphones, because I have no doubt this fella would be a Selfie-Shootin'-Fool.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Opening Doors

It's been eight years now that I've been photographing the community and culture of the 300-or-so Tibetans who live in the Seattle area.  It is a photographic project for which I can't imagine an "end point."

I feel as if I'm in a dream, walking around with my camera in an ancient and amazing,  treasure-filled palace. Each door I open in the palace leads to a discovery, something  beautiful or new to me, and almost always surprising.

I learned recently that one of my Lama friends at the Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Seattle has taken up painting. My friend, Tulku Yeshe Rinpoche,  is already a respected poet and writer and I have read the English translations of a number of his books. His creativity is boundless.

Tulku la's paintings seem, to my eye at least, far beyond what one would expect from a "beginner." He allowed me to photograph him as he worked on a painting of the Potala Palace, for 300 years the home of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa, Tibet.  The current Dalai Lama fled Lhasa in 1959 and lives in exile in India. The Potala palace is now a museum and a World Heritage Site.

As I consider the photographs I'm posting today, I wonder whether Tulku la has the same dream that I have? ... that he, too is walking around in an incredible palace, full of neverending discoveries.

Friday, June 24, 2016


I was in the Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Seattle last night, photographing a candlelight ceremony to honor the passing of the monastery's much-loved head lama, Dagchen Rinpoche.

In my 40-plus years as a photojournalist, the scene I beheld last night was one of the most beautiful things I have witnessed.  Soft voices joined in a sweet, chant-like prayer, and monastery lights were turned down low. The human faces, glowing in that soft candlelight, were simply lovely.

I am often awed by the power that a still photograph has to convey emotion, but in this instance, nothing can match the experience of being there.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Multi-chrome or monochrome?

I rarely spend a ton of time debating whether I like one of my photographs better in black in white, or in color. Images somehow seem to have a way of deciding that for me.

In these days of digital imagery, I shoot everything in color, knowing that I can always convert the picture to B&W later on the computer. Once I do that, I can toggle between the color image and the monochrome version on my computer display screen. If I'm still not quite sure which I like best, I happen to be married to someone whose visual taste I trust completely -- often more than I trust my own.

("Leah, can you come here and look at this?…")

Back in film days,  color vs. black and white was a much tougher decision, at least for mountain trips where every ounce counts.  Schlepping a backpack that held an extra camera body or film back loaded with color/B&W,  or even extra film, on a hard hike of many miles and four or five thousand feet of elevation gain was a drag (literally.)

Today I'm posting images from recent hikes. The two above I like in color (though neither is particularly, um, colorful.)  The bottom two I prefer in B&W.

I can be more than a little OC about most any consideration about my photographs... poorly-handled light or composition or technical mis-steps, all can and do make me crazy.
But color vs B&W? Nah, I'll save my angst for other worries.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Our Friend Minnie

This morning I happened to hear a story on NPR where an historian said that when ancient civilizations are discovered and human bones are found, it is not uncommon to also find the bones of dogs. This little factoid indicating how deeply the human/canine bond lives in our DNA really resonated with me because yesterday our dog Minnie, an 18-year-old Australian Shepherd,  died. And though Leah and I knew that 18 is quite old for a dog and could see that Minnie's health was deteriorating and understood that no being lives forever, her absence in our house today is unmistakable.

I spent some time this morning looking through some photographs I have taken of our little four-legged friend over the years.  And though recently she spent her old-girl days camped out near her food bowl, not wanting to miss her next meal, the pictures I found remind me that,  as a youngster, Minnie was a go-getter, an imp, a social being who was usually right there, close by the humans and other creatures who populated her world.

We humans are lucky that dogs allow us to be part of their lives.