The Buddhist, Hindu, pre-Buddhist Bon, and Shamanic traditions of Tibet and the Himalaya all pay special homage to places that are deemed spiritually powerful by virtue of their unique geographical qualities. Such places often have physical lineaments: a summit where the sky meets the land in a kind of axis mundi connecting heaven and Earth; the confluence of two or more rivers; a cave; a hot springs where fire meets water; or the up welling source of a river. Spiritual practice transforms such geomorphological settings into auspicious sites. Other sacred places have direct human origins: the birthplace of a saint, the architectures of monasteries and temples, hermitages and meditation shrines, or the residence of miracles. Here, too, their consecration as sacred places requires acts of devotion and ritual. Pilgrims journey among the sacred places of Tibet and the Himalaya in ages-old quests of atonement or to gain spiritual merit, following the mental trajectories of their divine mandala space much as a cartographer might delineate the pixelated lines on an electronic map.
When I first went about making photographs in landscapes containing such elements, I imagined them to be a kind of portal into the systems of belief from which they sprang—not literal thresholds into a supernatural realm, as might be imagined in some arcane religious practices, or even as simple religious scenery, but rather as revelatory of how a people or society might understand human life, consciousness, and the natural world. I later came to realize, in my selection of places to photograph—their angles of repose, quality of light, evocations, and so forth—that I also was engaged with my own personal appraisal of sacred places in Tibet and the Himalaya. I, too, was embarked on a kind of spiritual journey — in part, a picture pilgrimage.
By David Zurick