Spirit of Tibet

The following article is from the Winter, 1999 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

Portrait of a Culture in Exile

Photographic Exhibit to Open in St. Louis


Beginning February 15, The Cecille R. Hunt Gallery at Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri will host a collection of 45 color photographs taken over the last ten years during Ms. Wright's travels to all the Tibetan refugee communities in India, with particular emphasis on Dharamsala, the site of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's residence in exile. The images portray a cross-section of the lives of the Tibetans that make up this community in diaspora.

Accompanying the exhibition is the book release of Spirit of Tibet with photographs and text by Alison Wright, and a foreword by H.H. the Dalai Lama. The book contains 180 images in an large format book and retails for $34.95.

This visually stunning, full-color portrait of Tibetan life in exile displays the spirit of Tibetan refugees living in the beautiful mountain settings of northern India. It shows how Tibetans have preserved the best of their unique culture and identity. Aided by their Buddhist faith, the Tibetan people have rebuilt productive lives for themselves, and live today in thriving communities with a strong sense of purpose: to preserve and maintain the ancient Buddhist tradition which forms the core of Tibetan culture. In this sense, Tibetan refugees have managed more than mere survival: they have created a Tibet in exile that is in many ways more truly Tibetan than their occupied homeland.

Alison Wright's photographs capture the indomitable resiliency of the Tibetan people as they have survived the ordeal of exile with humor and determination, and with their perspective intact. Their inner strength and courage are truly inspiring and fonn the essence of this book.

Some of the photos from the book are on line at www.alisonwright.com. You can also find updates there of her gallery schedule.

Posters of the Dalai Lama and of the exhibition The Spirit of Tibet: Portrait of a Culture in Exile are available through Snow Lion Publications or directly from Alison. Ten percent of each poster sale will go towards schooling Tibetan children and helping to establish a community center in Dharamsala for the young people. This new generation born in exile is not satisfied to weave carpets and work the fields as their parents did, straggling as new refugees. This center will give them a place to congregate, to read, to learn how to type, to work out in a gym, and to play music, as they explore what it means to be a Tibetan today, grasping modern ideas, but still of traditional roots with Tibetan hearts.

Alison says, I am greatly encouraged by the 400 chapters of Students for a Free Tibet which are opening across university and high school campuses and I am currently booking slideshow/lectures to help promote the awareness of Tibet. Please check out my web page at www.alisonwright.com for more information on how to contact me to book a show.

Also available is a fifty print photographic exhibition (28 x21 each). A mixed media of photographic prints and iris prints on handmade water-color paper, this show is traveling in conjunction with the new release of the book The Spirit of Tibet: Portrait of a Culture in Exile, by Snow Lion Publications.


My greatest hope with these photographs is for those of you who have not been as lucky as I, to have lived among the wonder and magic of the Tibetan people for so many years, that your hearts too will be a little bit touched by these people who struggle on a daily basis to survive. And to think, as you carry that away with you, You know, I would really like to see these people and this culture living on the planet for many more years to come, because at the rate things are going they don't have long. Human connection is a wonderful thing.

Alison Wright, a freelance photojournalist based in San Francisco, specializes in documenting the traditions and changes of endangered people in remote areas around the world.

Her work has been featured in magazines and newspapers worldwide and includes photo essays on medicinal healers in the Amazon rain forests, the hill tribes of South East Asia, Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, Burmese refugees in Thailand, Marco Polo's footsteps across the Silk Road of China and Pakistan, as well as life in the outback of Australia, where she lived for two years. Alison also leads photographic/cultural tours for Geographic Expeditions to Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan.

Based in Nepal for four years while documenting the plight of children for UNICEF and various other aid organizations, Alison became the 1993 recipient of the Dorothea Lange Award in documentary photography for her photographs of child labor in Asia. Since then, she has lived with exiled Tibetans in Nepal and India for over a decade, recording their culture and the challenges which exile has brought.

Funded by Kodak, Alison's traveling photo exhibition of Tibetan culture helped establish a permanent wing dedicated to visual anthropology in the Phoebe Hearst Museum. Alison received her Master's Degree from the University of California at Berkeley where she created her own program in Visual Anthropology and now teaches workshops.

Spirit of Tibet: Portrait of a Culture in Exile

photographs and text by Alison Wright

foreword by H.H. the Dalai Lama 200 pages, 180 color photos, 9 1/2 x 10, #SPTI $34.95

Freelance photojournalist Alison Wright's vivid portrait of Tibetan life in exile will kindle the warmth in any heart. In her vibrant visual sojourn with Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala, India, she reveals lives rich in reflection and celebration, and creates a doorway into a culture that survives in spite of travail. Nuns, monks, musicians, yak herders, children, the survivors of political prisons and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, animate the pages. Her compositions are stunning, the color and light with which she adeptly enflames her subjects exude both strength and intimacy. A short foreword by the photographer underscores the spirit of the composition, but truly this is a book that needs few words. Wright, whose work appears frequently in The Examiner, is most articulate in her photography; and that is worth countless lines of text. Good intent is very important. Most important in all that you do. Never forget,' the Dalai Lama advises her in a garden encounter in Dharamsala. In her work, Wright makes it clear that the message is, indeed, unforgettable.John Flinn, San Francisco Examiner

Alison Wright is devoted to capturing the essence of the Tibetan character, and she did so brilliantly. Not only do her photographs capture the stark color contrasts and subtle shades of light in the tiny mountain village of Dharamsala, but she masterfully captures the almost-inexplicable joy and humor that the Tibetans display despite their ongoing hardships. Central to the work are her unique portraits of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Her picture of the Dalai Lama's hands holding a string of prayer beads is particularly captivatingIn sum, there are many collections of Tibetan images available these days, but, in my opinion, Ms. Wright's work should be the first one you buy. Bravo, Ms. Wright! Give us more! S.A. Hunt, Amazon.com


May 3-23, 1999

Call Brent Olson at Geographic Expeditions for more information (415) 922-0448

Join Alison with Geographic Expeditions on a most extraordinary photographic odyssey in the Himalayas. She has lived and traveled for over a decade in Nepal and Tibet while photographing for UNICEF and world-wide publications. Her love of people and the land shine through her images and she is eager to share her photographic knowledge with you. At the same time you will gain abetter understanding of these visually and spiritually rich Buddhist countries of the Himalayas.