Tages-Anzeiger | Zurich | Switzerland | April 12, 2005

By Sascha Renner

“He is the only true human being”

Four years of work, thirty trips, 75,000 negatives. The result a photography book that pursues the secret of the Dalai Lama. The conclusion: There is no secret.

.... Support from the Volkart Foundation made it possible for him in 2001 to tackle the portrait of the scholar and Nobel Peace Prize winner. The Dalai Lama permitted him to remain in closest proximity, even during his withdrawal in meditation. Bauer stayed in the same hotels to be able to photograph the Dalai Lama at 4 o’clock in the morning during his preparations for the day. He squeezed himself in state limousines before the delegation with escorts raced from the airport to the city. He tiptoed through the cordons of seated monks while the religious leader instructed them in wisdom and compassion – always squatting, with high-speed film and two cameras slung around his neck to avoid disturbing the proceedings by changing lenses or using a flash.

His self-imposed reserve and scrupulously prudent observation of court etiquette resulted in constant resignation. “As soon as His Holiness sat down, I didn’t dare walk around anymore because no follower stands when he is seated.” For that reason there were many photographs that Bauer could never take or only months later. One reason why the work took so much time. However, in spite of all that, 75,000 negatives accumulated. The book shows only “a by-product of the archive” (Bauer) – a selection of 200 photographs. It is neither a chronological nor geographic narrative, rather an intuitive one, that determines the order of the photographs.

A multi-page frontispiece builds up tension: images of hundreds of Tibetans, their faces full of expectation, waiting in the dust of the unpaved road alternate with the convoy of off-road vehicles meandering up the side of the mountain; ultimately the first appearance of the protagonist. Then follows in sizeable chapters the inter-religious dialogue, the immense effect of the religious leader in India, his countless appearances as propagandist, media star, and Buddhist messiah in the West, and finally a view into the residence in exile.

A change of paper for the text pages, modern typography and an otherwise classical layout make the book an opulent, contemporary work. A comprehensive chronicle and a text by journalist Christian Schmidt supplement the photos. The result is a product of deference and sympathy. It is open to the criticism that it follows the Tibetophilia of the last few years without question. Manuel Bauer himself makes no secret of his “pro” viewpoint. As a photojournalist, aware of his subjective viewpoint, he acquits himself as being on the side of the oppressed. ....