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First Thought, Great Thought

June 8, 2009

At the Shambhala Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, this past Monday, Andy and Wendy Karr presented part one of a slideshow: First Thought, Best Thought: Photographs by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. One hundred of the documentary and dharma art slides of Chögyam Trungpa's work were shown with introduction and commentary by the Karrs, as well as audience participation. Andy gave a brief introduction to dharma art and contemplative photography; Wendy spoke about the scope of Trungpa Rinpoche's photographic work and read poetry to accompany some of the slides. However, there was a lot of space and silence, so that the audience could fall into -- appreciate -- these extraordinary ordinary images.

The "subjects" in the photos included a very regal tiger in Bhutan, taken from so close that one audience member asked whether the tiger had been photoshopped into the slide. A tiny green frog in close-up and a spider in her web were equally arresting. The eyes and brows of a beautiful young woman (who will soon turn 60), a portrait of one of Rinpoche's students who recently turned 70, and other "humanoids" were delightful. But nature stole the show with grass, water, sky, rock, mountain, tree dignity. Early slides from the 1960s, of the Young Lamas' Home School in Dalhousie and from Trungpa Rinpoche's trip to Taksang in Bhutan were also included.

Next week, part two of the slideshow will focus on the Five Buddha Families in Trungpa Rinpoche's photography. Applying the buddha families (for information on this, see Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism) was one of the approaches to photography that Rinpoche himself used. A completely fresh set of images will be shown.

Andy and Wendy have scanned and created a database for more than 1,500 slides of Rinpoche's work, using a film scanner generously on loan from photographer Michael Wood. Their work is being done under the auspices of the Shambhala Archives and with financial assistance from the Chögyam Trungpa Legacy Project.

Due to technical problems encountered with the scans, approximately three hundred images will need to be rescanned in the next few months. Then, if there is sufficient funding, the Shambhala Archives would like to complete the scanning of the black-and-white and color prints of Chögyam Trungpa's work held in the Archives. This is approximately another five hundred images. Many of these photographs were generously donated to the Archives five years ago by Rinpoche's widow, Diana Mukpo.

Scanning the photos is just the first step in the process of making this material available. The Archives will post some of the images on its website, and we are also in discussions about making a limited group of prints available.

For interested groups, Andy and Wendy may be available to take this show "on the road." They are senior students of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and are dharma artists as well. Andy has been a photographer for many years, and is currently working on a book with Michael Wood about contemplative photography, to be published by Shambhala Publications. Wendy is both a student and a teacher of ikebana, whose arrangements have been included in a number of shows and installations in Canada and the United States. They bring love and sensitivity to their work on the photographs, gently illuminating and bringing out the emotional depth of the images. For further information, please contact Carolyn Gimian, carolyn@shambhala.com, or Andy Karr, akarr@shambhalasun.com.

This work on the photographs of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche is a prelude to the digital copying and preservation of the more than sixty thousand photographs in the Shambhala Archives. If we are able to secure funding and with the participation and approval of the photographers whose work is represented in the Archives, we hope to launch this huge endeavor within the next twelve to twenty-four months.


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