Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Shinya Arimoto | Portraits of Tibet

Photo © Shinya Arimoto - All Rights Reserved

I don't think I've featured the work of a Japanese photographer on The Travel Photographer blog before, and especially not one who traveled a number of times in Tibet.

Tibet, on the situated on the Tibetan Plateau on the northern side of the Himalayas, is an autonomous region of China. It shares Mt. Everest with Nepal. Its capital, Lhasa, is site of hilltop Potala Palace, once the Dalai Lama’s winter home, and Jokhang Temple, Tibet’s spiritual heart, revered for its golden statue of the young Buddha.


While some quarters argue that China’s invasion of Tibet ended feudal and theocratic rule and started a liberation process, the fact remains that Tibet has been subjected to an old-fashioned colonization. The invasion by China produced tens of thousands of refugees, manmade famines, and attempts to wipe out local culture, religion, and language. It also brought in thousands of Chinese Han immigrants, and ruling officials.

However, let me set aside the geopolitics and introduce the work of Shinya Arimoto whose galleries of Tibet are mainly monochrome and in the square format.

Arimoto has three galleries: Portraits of Tibet, Why Now Tibet, and Tibetan Way (color). He visited and photographed in Tibet from 1994 to 1998, and published these monochrome photographs in his first photo book “Portrait of Tibet” in 1999. He revisited Tibet in 2009 to start another project which is still ongoing.

Shinya Arimoto learned the fundamentals of photography in a photo school in Osaka. He mainly uses a Hasselblad 903SWC, however, he used a Rolleiflex 2.8F when traveling in Tibet. He was photographing in India, and met a Tibetan in Dharmasala who motivated him to continue northward (illegally) into Tibet. 

He is currently teaching photography at the Tokyo School of Visual Arts, and has supervised and led the artist-run Totem Pole Photo Gallery since founding it in 2008.