In Lhasa, a noble family take a picnic in a park, the women "s elaborate headdresses adorned with pearls. Travelling folk-opera singers pose in costumes and masks. Tibet covers an area as large as the UK, France and Germany combined, with a landscape that includes magnificent glaciers and Himalayan peaks, but also high plateaux and valleys with farmland, all of which are atmospherically evoked. These were the final decades of a society that had changed little since the Middle Ages, but was about to be savagely oppressed. The photographs, caught in a window of time, form a treasured record of the true spirit of Tibet. John Claude White was Political Officer in Sikkim for nearly twenty years, and photographed extensively in the border regions of Tibet. The earliest photographs in this volume are his â€œ taken when he joined the British military expedition to Lhasa in 1904. His pictures of mountains and glaciers give a geographical context for his more intimate shots of towns and people. White was succeeded as Political Officer in 1908 by Sir Charles Bell. Bell became a good friend of the thirteenth Dalai Lama when he fled to India to escape the Chinese pressure in Lhasa and this friendship later afforded him privileged access to Tibetan society during two extended visits to the capital at the invitation of the Dalai Lama in 1921 and 1933. His photographs reveal an ancient and complex civilization, dominated by the power of monastic religion. Bell, who spoke Tibetan fluently, went on to publish a wide range of scholarly titles on Tibetan culture and campaigned for its independence. His photographs and diaries are held in British Library Oriental and India Office Collections.
For anyone interested in the Himalayas or Buddhism, this book is so interesting. It features the collection of photos made by two British diplomats to Tibet in the early 1900's, John Claude White and Sir Charles Bell. Bell lived in Sikkim for two decades and photographed there and the majestic top of the world mountains. He documented life among the Tibetan people as it had been almost unchanged for many centuries before the Chinese occupation. Bell, who came after White, also lived in region for decades and spoke fluent Tibetan. He became a close friend of the 13th Dalai Lama and his family and, as such, was privy to many private events before the Dalai Lama had to seek refuge in India and was able to photograph and describe these occasions. The historic commentaries comprise a special window in time and a place and way of life which are gone. Their photographs and diaries and notes are priceless collections in the Victoria and Albert Museum where Clarke is a curator.