Photos: Capturing Change in Tibet

Beautiful scenic photos of Tibet are a controversial matter. Posting them on Twitter will often lead to rebuke from vocal activists who argue that they gloss over the realities of Chinese rule:

At The New York Times’ Lens blog, James Estrin showcases the work of Dutch photographer Marieke ten Wolde, who has aimed to capture a more balanced view of a changing Tibet.

Like many photographers who visit Tibet, Marieke ten Wolde has thousands of photographs of beautiful mountains, picturesque villages and nomads in colorful costume. But as she immersed herself in Tibetan life, she began to shift her attention from the icons of an ancient culture to the effects of China’s rule.

“I still take those photos because some places are just so beautiful, it’s a pity not to do it,” she said. “But it’s not the most interesting part, I think.”

[…] On her last visit, Ms. ten Wolde saw a great deal of tension in the streets of Tibet’s rapidly expanding cities and said that people were vocal with their concerns about the dams, the mines and the language, which is being replaced by Mandarin in classrooms, government offices and other institutions.

“It’s gotten worse year by year since 2008, when there was a lot more freedom,” she said. “Now we can’t even go, so we don’t know how bad it is.”

Click through for a slideshow of ten Wolde’s photographs.

Images by National Geographic photographer Michael Yamashita, on display at China Real Time Report, lean more towards the traditionally scenic. But this, too, is a reaction to the ferocious pace of change. In his new book ‘Shangri-La: Along the Tea Road to Lhasa’, Yamashita has tried to capture these sights before they are lost: “I do believe that the future is going to look a lot different than this book. It’s the last look at a Tibet that still looks like Tibet.”

See also Yamashita’s documentation of China’s high-speed rail programme, via CDT, and CDT’s latest coverage of the wave of Tibetan self-immolations which has now claimed nearly a hundred lives.


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