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Opening the Shutters

Tibetan Photo Project gives monks a window onto themselves

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With the support of celebs like Richard Gere and the Beastie Boys, the plight of exiled Tibetans has received a great deal of attention from the international media over the past decade. Since 1949 when the communist Chinese government invaded Tibet and began brutally destroying its people and culture, hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have fled to India and other countries where they have patiently waged an intensive and peaceful information campaign in hopes of one day returning to their homeland with the freedom to practice their ancient Buddhist traditions.

Photographer Joe Mickey is one of the thousands of people helping to spread the message of Tibetan exiles. Beginning in 1999, Mickey began "sponsoring" a young monk named Jam Yang Norbu in Dharamsala, India, and also sent point-and-shoot cameras with written instructions on how to take good photos. Many of the monks, he said, had never even seen a camera.

What made the resulting pictures unique, said Mickey in an essay about his experiences, was "the view was not being provided by an outsider looking in through a lens with romanticized notions. I was being given a unique vantage point from the inside."

The monks themselves saw the opportunity to document their own culture and further raise awareness of their cause.

Since 1949, all but 13 of the estimated 6,000 monasteries in Tibet have been destroyed by the communist Chinese government. Adding to the desperation is the fact that China's new president, Hu Jintao, is the former Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), and was known to be ruthless and brutal in his dealings with the Tibetan people. As such, there's little hope that Jintao's regime will relinquish its grip on the land.

But these photos, with the omnipresent gold and maroon of the Tibetan Buddhist robes, are a testament to the strength of the monks and their exiled culture.

--Noel Black

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