The Tibetan Photo
Joe Mickey's contact with the Tibetan monks began on the Mendocino
stop of their 1999 American cultural tour. He had the privilege
of a photo-op and an interview with a Lama.
At that time, he was beginning a great deal of research on the Tibetan
accusations of abuse at the hands of the Chinese government. In
"Tears of Blood — A Cry for Tibet" by Mary Craig and "In
Exile From the Land of Snows" by John Avedon, he had read the
accounts of terrible atrocities suffered at the hands of the Chinese
government forces told by Tibetans who had escaped
The follow-up research consisted of reviewing news from major media
sources in print, broadcast and on the Web. Mickey wanted to sort
Tibetan propaganda from the facts. He has developed a hard copy
file that numbers about 2,500 articles. They cover all aspects of
recent developments in China.
With regards to the Tibetans, the file confirms the claims of horrific
methods regularly employed by the Chinese government. China officially
labels torture as “Reeducation.” Beijing labels accounts of torture
“the propaganda of splittists” and “internal matters.” and of no
concern for the international community.
During Mickey's meeting with the Tibetans he was introduced to a
sponsorship program for Tibetan monks living in one of the Buddhist
monasteries they have recreated in India. He sends a small monthly
amount and enjoys a slow but rewarding correspondence with Jam Yang
There is no instant messenger or email. This is all handled by regular
mail. When Mickey's letters arrive in India they wait at the monastery
for available translators. Norbu responds in an original Tibetan
script that he gives the translators and it is eventually typed
up on a manual typewriter and sent to me. The process of a single
communication cycle can easily take six to ten weeks.
Mickey has been a photographer for over 30 years and he immediately
began to package up point-and-shoot cameras and added the basics
rules of good photography to his letters. From Jam Yang Norbu Mickey
learned that the camera was a new concept for Tibetans dedicated
to rebuilding and preserving
The first roll of photos was processed in India and Mickey received
a set of prints. From the start, Jam Yang Norbu and his friends
paid great attention to the basic lessons in photography and produced
a series of well-lit but posed images.
On the receiving end, this was still, nothing less than a magic
view into another world. More importantly, the view was not being
provided by an outsider looking in through a lens and preconceived
notions. Mickey was being given the vantage point from the inside.
He immediately sent a small flood of cameras and film and in
correspondence we discussed how photography could be used as a tool
in their efforts to preserve Tibetan culture if he could record
his friends living that culture on film Again, the monks have paid
very good attention and he has been given the gift of rare glimpses
into the lives of some of the 2,500 monks of the Drepung Monastery.
What has been revealed in the photos and the letters is a dedicated
group of men living and struggling and very often laughing through
lives that have very few needs or desires. They work with complete
dedication to preserve the best of Tibetan culture.
2003 FOTO ART MAGAZINE