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Capturing changing cultural landscape of Tibet and storytelling through the lenses of young Tibetan minds

Tibet Group Tours

In February 2016, Marv Ross, a long time photography enthusiast and Tibetan Village Project (TVP) board member, traveled to Amdo in northeastern Tibet to celebrate Losar (Tibetan new year) with his friend and fellow photographer, Tsemdo Thar. When asked, Marv recalls memories of the trip with much warmth and satisfaction. He visited the homes of some of his young Tibetan friends, aspiring photographers, he had met at a photography workshop that he taught in 2014. Marv laughs as he describes the exciting but exhausting Tibetan tradition he experienced in the homes of Tsemdo’s friends and family as the clock struck twelve at midnight on the first day of Losar; the marathon of home visits can go on until early afternoon the next day. Marv decided to call it quits around three or four in the morning.

Part of Marv’s Losar trip also involved reconnecting with and following up on the participants of a 2-week photography workshop that TVP held in 2014 in partnership with Plateau Photographers, a group of young Tibetan photographers. Tsemdo Thar, a professional photographer and head of Plateau Photographers, organized the workshop in Tibet with TVP providing the necessary funding and securing professional photographers to serve as workshop instructors. Accompanying Marv as a co-instructor was Bill Ellzey, a professional photographer and photography instructor whose work has been featured in prominent magazines such as the National Geographic. The workshop trained 5 male and 3 female members of Plateau Photographers on basic photography and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, a photo editing and management software. The participants were university students ranging in ages from 19-28 years old, who came from different areas of the Tibetan Plateau, including Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.

During the 2-week workshop, participants learned how to use their cameras and catalogue and edit images in Lightroom. Each day, a new photography topic would be introduced. The concepts and techniques learned in the class would then be carried out in the field with the work of each participant reviewed in the evening followed by lessons on using Lightroom. The goal of the workshop was to train these 8 photographers who could then train fellow Tibetans within their community who are interested in photography. In essence, the workshop was a training of the trainers.

Besides catching up on life and meeting the families of the participants, Marv also reviewed the many photographs the students had taken since the workshop. He assessed how they were using Lightroom and gave feedback on their pictures and refresher lessons on Lightroom during his Losar trip. Marv came back from the trip delighted at the progress the young photographers had made, but most of all, he loved the fact that Tibetans are using photography to tell their stories, literally from their own perspective using their own camera.

In retelling his travel experiences, Marv hit upon a very important point, which was the impetus for Tsemdo and his friends to start Plateau Photographers. With life fast changing for people on the Tibetan plateau, there is a sense that customs and traditions are quickly disappearing, turning into fleeting memories of how things once used to be. Amidst this wave of concern, a group of committed young Tibetan photographers started the Plateau Photographers Project so that Tibetans can be equipped to tell their stories from their own perspective through photography and document the rapidly changing lifestyle they are witnessing around them. A small project that began when a group of Australian travelers generously donated their film cameras has now to date trained over a hundred young Tibetans from different parts of the plateau and captured more than 20,000 images of daily life of Tibetan nomads and farmers, rituals, festivals, beautiful landscapes, challenges that Tibetans face and cultural elements that the young minds feel are slowly fading away. The project continues still in the form of a group, namely Plateau Photographers, with project participants serving as its members.

As for the 2014 photography workshop, the success of its outcome can be heard below in the testimonial of one of the participants and seen in the picture book exhibiting photos of the participants (book available here).

“Bill and Marv were perfect for this workshop. I really appreciate their humility to work with our team and teach us with great patience and effort. Bill is well experienced in teaching photography workshops and I learned quite a lot from him. A number of photography tricks/tips I learned have been very useful. His approach of critiquing student work was also very helpful. I am grateful to learn how he trains photographers. I can use some of his methods to train new members in the future.”
–Tsemdo Thar

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