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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Gallery Four: Finding meaning in details > Private shrine, Lhasa, Tibet, 2004
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Private shrine, Lhasa, Tibet, 2004
27-JUN-2004

Private shrine, Lhasa, Tibet, 2004

This Buddhist shrine is filled with not only ceremonial objects, but also monetary offerings and a photograph of the late Panchen Lama and his family. I photographed this shrine in the bedroom of a family we visited in Lhasa because of its wealth of detail, which contains incongruous juxtapositions both ironic and tragic. To see this former Panchen Lama – the second most important figure in Tibetan culture after the Dalai Lama -- and Mao appear within the same image in the context of private worship, is astounding. Mao was responsible for triggering mass persecution of the Tibetan Buddhists during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, and this Panchen Lama spent ten years in solitary confinement. He died in 1989. Yet here they both are, appearing together as small details within a shrine offering devotion to the very religion that Mao’s government so ruthlessly persecuted.

Canon PowerShot G5
1/40s f/3.0 at 28.8mm full exif

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Phil Douglis27-Mar-2005 06:53
Without the Mao money, I would not have made this photo, Benchang. That's where the incongruity rested. Buddhism and Mao, side by side in a shrine. The money, of course, is there not to salute Mao, but as an offering to Buddha. It just happens that Mao, who was very hard on Buddhists, is ironically pictured on those bills.
Benchang Tang 27-Mar-2005 01:57
This picture tells a big story. Without the Mao money it will not be this expressive.
Phil Douglis24-Dec-2004 17:17
Thanks, Nut, for this comment. I like your idea of this family writing its own version of Tibetan history by placing these things according to how they feel and what they believe.
nut 24-Dec-2004 16:56
I don't think Mao is a Buddhist. I don't think he have a warm family. I don't think people in Tibet love him or feel good to him. This is my feeling when I saw this photo in the first time.
I wonder, if I can take out the background history, what will I feel for this?

I think people who live in this place have the good way to arrange their place. If they really like or love or respect respect "Mao" then they should re-arrange "Mao" into the right position, but not i this way. Let see the photograph of the late Panchen Lama and his family, it's in the nice position with good arrange in their environment. Position is also important. Why this family put "Mao" above the photograph of Panchen Lama and his family? The answer is in history. What I can see here is. Buddhist is the most important here then Lama. But the less important in their feeling at all is "Mao" but Mao is above Lama. I say no more. But I think I understand.
Phil Douglis09-Dec-2004 20:38
Your comment is what makes it such a delight to bring my pictures to people around the world to look at them, and see them according to their own contexts. Zebra, who is Chinese, saw this picture through his own prism. You, a Spanish-American with roots in Buddhism, see this image with greater irony and sadness because of your own context. As a teacher, I do not intend my images to proclaim any political or religious views. It is my task to stimulate thinking with my images I've posted here on pbase. I am glad I've done that there -- I've shown how critical context is to meaning. Not just context provided within the picture itself, but the context that a viewer brings along with her, such as you have here, Clara. Because of who you are and where you have been, you see things amidst these details that have deeply ironic and sad meaning to you. To me, the incongruous juxtaposition of Mao, Buddha, and the former Panchen Lama amidst the detail of this private shrine was the point of the picture. Yet your context changes it all for you, and perhaps for others as well.
Guest 09-Dec-2004 17:47
This is very familiar to me as I was a vajrayana buddhist for long. It is yes ironic and sad too, that home shrines have to display the faces of the enemy just in case red army troups enter one day to check. They are not allowed to worship the 14 Dalai Lama, who is widely loved by all Tibetan folks. I never wanted to go to Tibet, where vajrayana buddhism and its adepts have suffered for decades and continue now through a mask of pleasingness.
Phil Douglis02-Nov-2004 17:42
I find your comments here fascinating, Zebra. You are Chinese. I am an American. And here we are talking about the meaning of a picture that is wholly dependent upon the context we bring to an image. I find this image loaded with irony, because of who this family is, and who Mao was and what he did to them. You look at it as all about belief, which is fine, but quite a distance from my intentions. As for making the family photo more clear, if I came in any more to stress detail in that picture, I would lose much of the context I depend on her for meaning -- the Buddhist symbols and the Mao money. If you view that picture in its "original" size, you will find that the family picture will be a bit more detailed than it appears in "large" size.
Guest 02-Nov-2004 14:39
I just read your comment about political persecution.I don't know it before and now I have a new look at this photo.A bit of sad to Mao.But I still think my first sense is the most important.I do not change my point.
Guest 02-Nov-2004 14:29
Wondowful work!

I can see a beatific family among huge blessings from their immortals,numens,Buddhas,and money (Phil,I think Mao is too sensitive to an American.Believe me,here he is only seem money.The family hope that their money will be more and more.).Belief is very very important to indigene in Tibet.Your shot emphasize it.You put the family in the middle,yes,I like it,a happy family,a warm family.If the family photo can be more clear,this shot would be better.

Zebra
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