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Fleeting Images of a Changing Tibet

June 10, 2008

By Geoff Gehman, geoff.gehman@mcall.com
Allentown Morning Call, (PA, USA)
June 8, 2008

Elaine Ling was born in Hong Kong, lives in Toronto and left her
heart in Tibet. Her 2007 photographs of the Dalai Lama's homeland,
exhibited at Lehigh University as a preview of his school residency
in July, are concerned and curious -- whether the subject is a
Buddhist cave dwelling or a family shrine with an ad for chewing gum.

Ling is a family physician who began photographing seriously while
doctoring the Cree, the Haida and other First Nation tribes in the
Arctic. She targeted Tibet in 1987 while tending to refugees at a
hospital and in temples in Kathmandu. That year she traveled to Tibet
to photograph pilgrims at markets and a rainbow coalition of faces;
some of the pictures hang in another Lehigh show.

Last year Ling returned to document a Tibet changed by increasingly
invasive Western culture and increasingly hostile Chinese occupation.
In a house she shot a shrine with images of a monk, a fright-masked
deity and a promotion for Doublemint gum. In a guest house she shot a
poster of a smiling, smoking Mao Zedong next to a calendar photo of a
bare-shouldered, sexy model.

Guided by a 24-year-old monk, Ling depicted plenty of traditional
pilgrimages. In three digital chromogenic prints she shows a man
praying on his stomach on a sidewalk, hands protected by
sandblock-like clogs. Subtly different angles and moods create an
animated still movie, detached yet devotional.

Cinematic flair flares up in Ling's multiple-frame, poster-sized
gelatin silvers with sprocket holes and chemical smears. In a
four-picture series the ritual of hoisting prayer flags across a
mountain valley becomes a delightfully quaking jumble, a spiritual
laundry line. A diptych of a monastery courtyard emptied during a tea
break from prayers is a flexing panorama of lights and whites.
Despite being unoccupied, the prayer cushions are anything but
lonely; in fact, they suggest a Zen party.

For 20 years Ling has been roving ancient cities and deserts on four
continents, recording everything from charmingly decayed buildings in
Havana to deer stones in Nomadic Mongolia. When she's less ambitious
she's more of a tourist.

Middle-ground images of a Tibetan stone circle filled with
conch-shell wishes are fairly flat; even a color shot doesn't bubble.
A portrait of a monk preparing tea in a monastery kitchen could have
been taken anywhere. It lacks the punch of Ling's diptych, also shot
in a monastery, of a sculpture of Buddha's giant wooden feet
squishing the guilty, a divine punishment as funny as hell.

Elaine Ling's 2007 photographs of Tibet , through July 27, main
gallery, Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University, 420 E. Packer Ave.,
Bethlehem. Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 1-5 p.m. Sun. Related
show: Ling's 1980s photographs of Tibet, through Sept. 12, DuBois
Gallery, Lehigh University, Vine Street and Asa Drive, Bethlehem.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-noon Sat. 610-758-3615,
http://www.luag.org .
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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