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COMPASSION MATTERS: The Tibetan Photographs of Tom Lamb

Originally Published: 10 November 2015 in Laguna Beach Art Magazine.

China’s economic and military hegemony has His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan Independence Movement on its knees and the Peoples Liberation Army is about to break its arms and legs.

While Communism and reincarnation are by their natures incompatible, the Chinese Government insists on having a defining role in the selection of the Dalai Lama’s successor. In the meantime, if you utter the Dalai Lama’s name on the streets of virtually any sizeable Chinese city, you will likely be arrested and possibly shot.


Tragically, Chinese intransigence regarding this contentious issue has driven the exiled Nobel Prize winning spiritual leader into a geopolitical wilderness in which his most faithful followers routinely set themselves on fire to protest the subjugation of their homeland’s religion and culture. Tibet’s colonizers, backed by a vicious constabulary, refuse to change their tune on the subject of Tibetan autonomy. Nevertheless, His Holiness Dalai Lama continues to search for a middle ground while maintaining empathy and compassion for all.

Seldom Seen by Western Eyes

Despite the dangers, Laguna-based environmental photographer Tom Lamb has willingly traveled across the roof of the world to photograph blessings proffered by Tibetan elders and their heirs. In 2014, for example, Lamb trekked into the Himalayas to the remote and stunningly beautiful Palyul Choekhorling Monastery. There he witnessed the enthronement of His Holiness Drubwang Pema Norbu, a beatific child who has been recognized as the reincarnation of Penor Rinpoche, a venerated teacher who died in 2009 after revealing the Four Cycles of Heart Essence. In a singularly revealing and joyous portrait by Lamb, created when the photographer was in what he describes as “a meditative walking dream state,” a golden child raises a small bouquet toward heaven as rose petals fill the air and flutter to the temple floor, signaling the conclusion of a five-day religious celebration seldom seen by Western eyes.


Lamb was at the Dalai Lama’s side on a rare visit to Norgeyling, a remote Tibetan settlement camp in central India, a journey that increased Lamb’s admiration for those enduring hardship in exile. Lamb subsequently travelled to Vancouver, Canada, where His Holiness met with Tibetan arrivals who had recently been granted Canadian citizenship. In June of 2015 he accompanied His Holiness to his home in exile in Dharamsala, India, for the first of many 80th birthday celebrations and prayers for a long and healthy life. Lamb also attended a benefit in Orange County where His Holiness addressed issues such as climate change and Tibetan cultural preservation. This benefit was followed by a Global Compassion Summit at UC Irvine and the Honda Center where His Holiness Dalai Lama interacted with fellow Nobel Prize laureates, teachers and students.

A Concerned Photographer Embraces Contradictions

After training as a visual environmental educator and documentary photographer at the Hartford Art School and the Rhode Island School of Design, Tom Lamb has devoted his career to environmental and cultural issues affecting indigenous people. At the same time, he has advanced local and international environmental and cultural causes such as his newly formed Nying-Je Foundation for the preservation of Tibetan culture.


Lamb has created dramatic aerial photographs of worldwide challenges from a land use and preservation perspective. His photographs are also intended to help the viewer understand how land functions as social space. While seeking transcendence, this concerned photographer embraces the real world’s ironies and contradictions.

Lamb was the Vice President of the US-China Environmental Fund, the first non-government environmental organization with an office in China. There he was project director for the Beading International Friendship Forest at the Badaling Great Wall and the Wolong Giant Panda Nature Reserve project in Sichuan Province. During his stay in Western Sichuan in the early 1990s, Lamb encountered the art, culture and traditions of Tibet. It was this experience that subsequently inspired him to create panoramic views of the Lhasa glacis as well as capture the stark beauty of the Tibetan grasslands. By accident or fate, he was the first Westerner in 50 years to gain sanctioned access to Aba County, a previously lost horizon where he captured gobsmacking views of earthen structures, mountains and monasteries while continuing to make empathetic photographic portraits of Tibetans from many walks of life.

Art & Faith Can Contribute to Peaceful Solutions

On the surface, Lamb’s photographs are seductively beautiful. Their colors, patterns and textures emerge as lyrical abstractions that free the viewer from references to perspective, scale and function. In so doing, they reveal an inner beauty and spirituality that resonate with the Dalai Lama’s most inspired teachings. While more strife on the roof of the world probably lies ahead, Tom Lamb’s Tibetan photographs metaphorically implore the hotheads on both sides to give peace a chance.

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See more of Tom Lamb’s work at lambstudio.com

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