Have you raised your head today, and seen your piece of sky,
Fallen down upon your knees, and tasted your share of earth?
When was the last time you heard silence? Total and utter silence, not only in your surroundings, but also within? Since the beginning of the industrial revolution 200 years ago, I’ve found it harder and harder to come by.
For the past two centuries, we have manifested our victory in the battle against nature by surrounding ourselves with machinery. Mechanical devices do our jobs for us. We can’t leave home without our gadgets. Buzzing and ringing, flashing and roaring, they control and shape our environment into something easier, smoother, more efficient and comfortable.
But by controlling our interaction with nature, we have also removed ourselves from the forces that run deep within us—the energy that unites all living beings.
Today, half the world’s population lives in cities. We are surrounded by incessant noise, rising stress levels and inexhaustible communication. We survive by being in several places at once—multitasking is the demanded norm. Motion and pace are valued over stillness and peace.
We encounter nature only when it’s neatly packed, uniformly presented and comfortably removed from its origins. We are removed from dirt. Soil. Earth. Ourselves. When was the last time you felt dirt beneath your feet? The last time you literally touched ground? It’s not that we abhor it. But it’s so easy to forget through the rattle and hum of daily life; we forget the value of silence, peace and a physical connection to this great big dirty organism called Earth.
This is precisely what spawned my venture to find the world’s silent spaces. I wanted to depict stillness and peace. As a result, I was drawn to places of worship—places where people focus their attention inward instead of outward. In these spaces, value is found in reconnecting with their inner selves and greater outside forces. These special places are venues for one of the most positive activities of man: the veneration and celebration of life.
In 2002, I won the Royal Geographical Society’s Photographer of the Year competition. As a prize I received a panoramic Hasselblad XPan camera. It inspired me to start this series of photographs, which has now evolved into a long term project called “Earth Temples.”
My aim is to capture the ambiance radiating from these places—be it a church, mountain, river, or simply a rock stuck in the ground—to convey the reverberation of its worshippers’ gratitude and adoration for life on earth. Maybe this can clarify something about what has been lost on the path to modernity.
Editors’ note: The Tibetan photos in this series will be shown at the Tibet House in New York as an exhibit named “Silent Spaces” opening on the 12th of January.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like these previous features: In Praise of Shadows, a reflection on the unique aesthetics of Japan; Thomas Smith’s photographs of the temples—and the hoards of tourists—of Angkor Wat; and smaraNa, a meditative series created in the foothills of the Himalayas.