I was very much aware of violating my own usual procedures while shooting for Secret Scriptures, a series of photographs capturing moments after I, as a photographer, entered remote Tibetan monasteries. In the past, I either staged portraits or documented events as they naturally unfolded. In this series, however, the logic of the work required a different approach. I wanted to know what could burst forth as a result of my entering into but not staging scenes in these ancient spaces. In a word, I wanted to know my relationship to a secluded world, a desire that grew ever stronger after my grandfather’s death.
My grandfather was a poet long fascinated by Buddhism. When he was in his 40s, he left his family, went to Tibet, and spent four years there as a wandering monk. I was close to him when I was a small child, growing up in a village in southern China. But after my parents and I moved to a city, I had contact with him only on holidays. My entire family has never talked about my grandfather’s past, and I never got a chance to ask.
After he passed away, I returned to his village for the funeral and found a booklet of Buddhist poems and observations he made of people and places he had seen then. It was not until then that I started to realize that his life was so full of courage, patience, suffering, happiness and fortitude. I then decided to go to Tibet to cope with my grief and honor his memory.
I talked with Buddhist monks through an interpreter and photographed them while exploring my own relationship to the places outsiders rarely see, I couldn’t help but asking the same questions my grandfather had asked in his journal, what is the real world, where is the actual world, and what’s our relationship to it? Why do we have to rationalize and control and simplify our world to the point where there is no more mystery and secret?
My grandfather did not only see with his mind but also felt with heart. My loss of him was not an absence at all; it’s a presence, a strong presence through which I saw Tibet with my own eyes.
All images and text © Amy Luo
By Amy Luo
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