Manuel Bauer: TIBET

by Christian Eggenberger

His curiosity drives him not towards the next story, but further into the subject matter at hand. Without compromise. In an age where three weeks for a photo report is considered a luxury, Manuel Bauer spent three years documenting the daily life of the Dalai Lama. “Otherwise I would never have come so close or achieved such depth,” says Manuel Bauer. His reason for wanting to portray the Tibetan god-king is as concise as it is illuminating: “Because this photographic document would otherwise not exist.” There is certainly no scarcity of pictures of the Dalai Lama, but when these are compared to Manuel Bauer's portraits, it becomes clear to the discerning observer just how similar the published pictures of the Dalai Lama are, and how the presentation of his public image is essentially always the same. Manuel Bauer accompanied the god-king on countless journeys, and 70,000 pictures were the result. Even a small selection of Bauer's portraits reveals how important his work is both today and for future generations. For the first time the daily life of this great spiritual leader is documented in a coherent photographic work which draws a differentiated and multifaceted image of the 14th Dalai Lama.
Alongside other major reports, for example on Calcutta (1992) and Tristan da Cunha (2000), the most remote inhabited island on earth, Manuel Bauer always returns to his one great theme: the fate of the people in Tibet. Shadow Tibet (1996) shows a disturbingly candid picture of the country, which has been occupied by China since 1950. Escape from Tibet, his most famous book to date, is an intense and painful reminder of how much these people have suffered and are still suffering. For this report in 1995, Manuel Bauer accompanied a 6-year-old girl and her father on their journey from Tibet into Indian exile where she could receive a Tibetan education. The fact that Manuel Bauer laid his life on the line during this escape over the Himalayas is of no consequence to him. “I made the decision of my own free will,” he says. “The Tibetans have no choice if they wish to remain Tibetan.”

It is said that the age of great photo reporting is over. You could almost agree, until someone like Manuel Bauer comes along and proves the opposite. No other medium succeeds in creating such a moving document of lasting value, and one which provides such incontrovertible evidence. His greatest strengths lie in his ability to capture movements and emotions, his empathy with other cultures. To accomplish this, he uses a wide-angle lens, creates contexts, tells stories which allow viewers to be drawn into the heart of the scenes he documents.

Published in PHOTOsuisse