The Story Behind The Picture
Sea of Monks
I was in Xiahe, in China’s Gansu province, shooting the Tibetan New Year celebrations at Labrang Monastery, the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery outside of Tibet proper. The monks there were gathering for a debate and prayer session. This young novice was very interested in me as I approached the seated monks for a picture. He was actually one of the guards whose job is to keep the thousands of tourists that you find everywhere at festivals these days in China, not to mention photographers, from getting too close to the celebrants.
What you don’t see is the big stick he is carrying behind his back. As I shot the picture, I pushed the envelope by edging closer and closer, trying to get a better angle on the multitude of monks. Just as I was shooting my first frame, the novice pulled out his stick and whacked me hard on the back. My heavy down jacket tempered the blow, but I had to wonder about the wisdom of training kids to hit adults with sticks.
As the snow came down harder, I moved up above the temple for another angle, out of harm’s reach. And thanks to the white snow reflecting light everywhere, each monk’s face was highlighted as if I had flashed each one individually. The result? Just the lighting I wanted for this group portrait.