Home > Bhutan Workshop > A Tale of Two Monasteries: Advanced Workshop, Day 2

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Today broke cold and overcast with a chill that lingered heavy all day…the morning also came pretty early after our really long day yesterday! As soon as we got to our critique, though, every heart started beating fast. MAN, there were some great images from this morning!  I don’t think anyone expected the work to be so moving, especially considering we spent all afternoon photographing buildings. (Granted, they were beautifully ornate, colorful buildings, but still. ) The students crushed our expectations with the kind of images they came back with. They made great graphic compositions, complexly layered images of nature and architecture, and depictions of the relationship between builder and structure, dweller and permanence.  They made some truly inspired images of what can be a difficult subject.

After our critique, and tea, we discussed the idea of layering, or using objects in the foreground, middle ground and background to add interesting details or provide more clues.  To bring the point home, Wendy showed us one of her photo essays on eye surgeons in Nepal, and then we headed to our location to begin working.

The teams all headed out to a small monastery and a national park to practice layering images out in a natural setting. Our first stop was Chari Monastery, at the confluence of two beautiful rivers.  We crossed a stone bridge dripping with prayer flags to a sand bank with long views upriver to the mountains, and more streamers strung from bank to bank. The monastery was a humble building, on a low flat just above the river. In every window were dozens of tsatsas, or small clay memorials, and a river stone courtyard surrounded the small wooden temple inside. Here, monks who have already attained a high level of enlightenment seek solitude and strive to go deeper into their training. These men are guided through different practices and challenges of great mental and physical difficulty. According to one story we heard, during the coldest month of the year, the monks endure a particularly difficult exercise where they practice generating heat. To accomplish this, the monks sit on a stone floor in a room with no fire. They dip their redza, their red monastic robes, in water and then, through meditation, learn to generate enough heat to keep their bodies warm and dry their robes. A good monk will be able to dry out his clothes several times in a day. And here we are, freezing in winter coats and hats!

After a while we moved up the valley to another retreat called the Tango Monastery. Here, the students explored a small logging hamlet, a thick forest, and a peaceful stone path up to the Tango sanctuary.  We chased monks through the forest, shot portraits against the sky, and turned over branches or stones. It was a peaceful but challenging assignment and one that the students turned into little miracles. We got some great shots, met some really cool people, and only a couple of the kids fell in the river.

Back at HQ, we did the nightly dance of downloading and editing the images. As always, the students piled high on top of one another as we worked our way over the mountain of images we shot during the day. Again, amazing work. We are really beginning to see quite a few images that I wish I had taken! The creative energy just oozes out of these guys. There is no doubt that many of these students have the potential to be successful creative photographers.

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