A ghostly image of a Tibetan temple in Manasarovar Tso © Matjaz Krivic
Review: “When I climb to the top of the mountain (in Tibet), I look around below me and I feel like I’m at home,” acclaimed photographer Matjaz Krivic smiles. He glances around the walls displaying his immense panoramic shots of the breathtaking Tibetan landscape. “I traveled five times already to Tibet. It’s become like a second home to me.”
A native of Slovenia, a small former Yugoslav Republic with a population little over two million, Krivic’s career as a professional photographer began in 1998 and catapulted him across the globe. Driven by his curiosity of other cultures and indigenous peoples, he traveled to some of the world’s most remote places. “I had always been interested in other people’s traditions.” For a quiet but self-described “visual guy,” photography was the perfect medium to communicate his passion for landscapes and multiple perspectives.
For this exhibit at Tibet House, Krivic contributed photos of Tibet from his ongoing project, Earth Temples, which is a photographic collection of religious sites worldwide.
While many of the attendees agreed that his multiple shots of Lake Manasarovar in Western Tibet were esthetically pleasing to the eye, some questioned the repetitiveness of the images and whether the pictures lacked “focus.” Perhaps, it would be more helpful to have a bit more informative about the region and why Krivic chose to photograph the lake from so many angles.
Breathtaking in their grandeur, the photos are still simply amazing. Yet, Krivic had little to say about the images. For him, the photos speak for themselves and invite the viewer to take it all in.
The use of space, time and perspective of his works create a bold but minimalist statement. When viewing his shot of Paryang Tso in Tibet, for example, and others in this series, there is a definite uniformity of emptiness, with an almost ghostly glowing beauty of an ethereal crystal surrounded by blackened mountain peaks. In spite of Krivic’s interest in peoples’ cultures, his pictures possibly reveal a hermit-like desire in him to simply escape to somewhere higher and quietly reflect on his surroundings.
Highlights of the collection at Tibet House include: a simple but beautiful snow covered Buddhist Temple at Manasarovar Tso by the lake and a troop of wild horses at Pangong Tso, which seem similar to the theme of a previous Mongolian art exhibit at Tibet House. While there is very little life, the landscapes, lighting both crisp and blended, captured a timeless moment of an unforgivingly beautiful terrain.
Similarly in other places such as the mountains of Yemen, he described jaw-dropping feats of climbing up into the unknown and gazing over 200 meters down. “Yemen is like going back in time,” he said. Towers built mostly by hand on the mountain tops seem almost implausible, but in Yemen, the local people have learned to adapt to the harsh environment. In one of his most iconic shots, buildings built on the peaks are empty, carved in stone and lit with a dying sunset.
Krivic plans to go to Bolivia and back to Tibet to photograph the lithium mines for his upcoming project Conflict Minerals, which he hopes will draw attention to the appalling modern-day slavery of mining the world’s precious metals. “When you use a smartphone or laptop, you don’t even know how many people are exploited and forced to work for almost nothing just for these minerals.” The lithium extraction mines are mere dry lake beds. “In Tibet, there are lots of them,” he said. “It is like a modern day slavery.”
Having visited Tibet five times since 1998, he has witnessed changes in daily Tibetan life, partly due to the Chinese government’s campaign to “modernize” the region. “In 1998, I rode around on a bicycle. There were lots of them,” he said. And the sight of foreigner on a bike seemed to bewilder the Chinese border guards who even invited him to have lunch. The gravel paths became paved roads and the car replaced the bicycle.
For many exiled Tibetans at the reception, his photography had a personal impact. “Westerners and others have an easier time visiting Tibet,” explains one of the guests who was born in a Tibetan refugee camp in India. “We can’t go back because we have to get a letter requesting permission from a family member living in Tibet or by invitation by the Chinese government.” Unsurprisingly, most of the applications are refused by authorities, who favor isolating Tibet from its exiled people. Still many are grateful to artists like Krivic who can bring to life the images of a lost homeland. For one young volunteer who had left her parents in occupied-Tibet, Krivic’s pictures are a kind of lifeline. “Our connection to our parents and homeland is through pictures like these,” she says after a reflective pause. She nods in silence and purses her lips. “I want to go back and see my family, but I can’t.”
Matjaz Krivic’s Silent Spaces exhibit continues through March 1, 2017 at Tibet House.