Silent Spaces In Tibet

Slovenian artist Matjaz Krivic celebrated his 45th birthday with the opening of “Silent Spaces,” his new photography exhibit at Tibet House running now until March 1.

Having traveled from Tibet just days before, the lithe, soft-spoken artist walked through the gallery and talked about Tibet and the 10 panoramic images in the show. Each one is a study of the mountain desert that has captivated him for nearly two decades. “I always feel

really great there,” Krivic said, speaking with a strong European accent. “The food is bad. The conditions are cold and dry, but I have always felt a connection.”

“Silent Spaces” could almost be described as Krivic’s own portrait, a selfie taken over time without him in the frame. Like many of his photography projects, he returns to the same spots and builds where he left off. The collections get larger. The ideas expand. “It’s becoming harder and harder to find silence,” he admitted. “I’ve been around the world photographing places of prayer and worship — earth temples — spaces where people can turn inward instead of outward. My aim is to capture these places. Maybe this can tell us something about what has been lost.”

While “Silent Spaces” is striking for its emptiness, I did see traces of Krivic in the vast landscapes.

“That is my cheap tent,” said Krivic, pointing to a lime-colored spec in the bottom right corner of Manasarovar Tso, Gurla Mandata and Mt. Kailash, a double panorama representing his first of six trips to Tibet. Taken in 1998 when he was only 27, this 118 by

19.6 inch photo is the largest in the exhibition.

What the photo does not capture is his headaches, nausea and hands so swollen with frostbite he could barely press the shutter. It is not an easy place to photograph but Krivic figured out how to do it — perseverance and friendliness.

For this first trip through the mountains, he rode a bike. While he carried a water purifier, he did not have a map to guide him to a river. Fortunately, he was saved by youthful vigor and the kindness of strangers, who offered shelter and companionship.

“When you’re driving, people don’t pay much attention to you,” he said, dimples deepening in his cheeks. “But on a bike, they say, ‘Stupid tourist. Come, stay with us.’”

Scenes from his 2006 adventures appear in the photo Gatse, an endless meditation of rolling hills sprinkled with snow. His favorite in the entire collection, however, is Derge, another 2006 landscape that depicts a hut in the left two-thirds of the composition. The rest is barren land and wintry sky. “I don’t know why I like it best,” he said quietly. “I just do.”

Pangong Tso, highlights the stark contrasts between sunshine and darkness on a high grassland lake. Meanwhile, Guge Tsaparang Gompa features the ruins of a former kingdom in Western Tibet. As we were walking about, he described waking up to these scenes: just him and endless spaces with no planes overhead.

Influenced by books and his own globe-trotting, Krivic took vows to become Buddhist, a dharma that embraces social awareness. Yet Krivic does not practice meditation. Nor does he have a teacher. A “visual person,” he instead focuses his mind through the lens.

“I’m interested in all religions and traditions,” he said. “The more unusual, the more I’m curious. Tibet and Yemen are my favorite. It’s like going back in time. There’s no phones. No roads. Just you.”

On his left wrist, Krivic wears a red piece of cloth, a gift from a young rinpoche he recently photographed. On his right wrist, Krivic has a tiny tattoo — what looks like a ‘V.’ “My wife has this too,” he said of his spouse, who joins him on many of his adventures. “It’s a sign of unity.”

The self-taught Krivic has won numerous awards for his body of work that unveils the price of greed. His series “Digging the Future” is different from “Silent Spaces” in that it depicts mine workers in the African country of Burkina Faso, one of the poorest in the world. For hours a day, children and adults dig for gold that ends up in our iPhones.

Americans are addicted to gadgets, chock full of these “conflict minerals.” Yet our devices come to us via China, where materials are soaked with the “blood” of inhumane practices.

While “Silent Spaces” presents the idea of emptiness, Krivic’s other projects get right into faces.

“They know I’m there,” he explained of the people in his photographs. “They see me. I earn their trust. We become friends. I go home and I collapse. I see what I’ve done and what I need and I go back again.”

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