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With the Dalai Lama, Part Two - if you can't be witty, then at least be bombastic [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
kyle cassidy

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With the Dalai Lama, Part Two [Oct. 13th, 2009|07:40 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |sir john giegud: ozymandius on the victrola]

* Thanks for all the lurvely comments yesterday. The Part One post generated a bit of de-friending, due, I'm guessing, to the length and the flagrant avoidance of a cut, or perhaps the lack of roswell pix. I respect your friends pages and try to be very conscious of what goes in front of a cut. It's a balancing act to try and figure if more people would rather not have to scroll past or not have to click to open. Personally I find that my own LJ reading habits are such that I will rarely click on a cut and tend to just scroll past. If you have a strong preference one way or the other, let me know in the comments and i'll adjust tomorrow's final installment accordingly.

Twenty-Four Hours Earlier

Barring a somewhat pointless airplane ride, there are three ways to get to New York from Philadelphia without driving. The fastest and most expensive is the Amtrak train service. There are several busses, the hippest and most convenient is the Bolt which has free wireless going for it, but it sells out days in advance. Greyhound and several Chinatown companies run services too. Of all the modes of transport, the New Jersey Transit train is probably the least elegant, as it involves taking a Septa train to Trenton, New Jersey and then switching to a NJ Transit train bound for New York. Sometimes the departing train leaves within seconds of the arriving train, close enough to regularly miss the transfer, or forty-five minutes afterwards, there seems to be little rhyme nor reason, but this is where Trillian and I found ourselves. Headed to New York with forty pounds of camera gear. The train has the advantage of being more comfortable than the bus and, if you're lucky, you can ride in the top half of a double decker between Trenton and NYC and get to look out the window and see the world as an 18 foot giant might see it if he were running along at 70 miles per hour in a straight South/North line.

I find Penn Station, deep within the bowels of Madison Square Garden, to be a confusing labyrinth. There's an East track and a West track, one's crowded, the other isn't, but finding one from the other seems to be based on the luck of ever-shifting tunnels and doors which sometimes exist and other times do not. When you're leaving though, it's like escaping from a funnel, all you do is go up and up and up and eventually you are disgorged like a school of anchovies from this great, squat building into a sea of tourists who, like you, are surprised to look up and suddenly see the Empire State building right there looking down at them. You navigate through the cell phone cameras, snapping a photo or two of your own along the way.



Taken with my iPhone & I'm proud of it



At five thirty Trillian and I met up with the photo-team in the lobby of the ever-so-swank Waldorf Astoria, our home for the next three days, and from there to the living room of our suite. On the 27th floor.

Given his druthers, I'm not sure the Dalai Lama would have chosen so posh a hotel – it's said that when he's at home in Daramsalah, he lives on ten dollars a day. “We want to treat him like a king,” one of the organizers confides in me, “because he's like a king to us, he really is.” And, for want of a better translation, it's probably an accurate word. Tibet did at one time have a king, but since 1720 the Dalai Lama's have ruled unassisted. We all check in and enjoy the view.

I'm here in New York photographing for three days at the invitation of the Vietnamese Buddhist community, who invited the Dalai Lama. The three other photographers, Chris, Tina, Emanuel and one of the organizers, Phong, stay up late with me on Saturday. We go to the Manhattan center and check on the progress of the stage building (very slow), we visit the Dalai Lama's hotel room to see what kind of flash settings we should be using for the later private meetings with various people. The schedule's in a constant state of flux. Meetings move from one day to another, groups that were supposed to be three turn into fifteen, front doors become back doors. All you can do is carry around a lot of gear and be prepared for everything.

I'd photographed a very similar event in 2005 so I was ready for a lot of it. One of the most amazing things is the interaction with his followers who are devoted in a way that I don't think translates into the west – perhaps like Beatlemania, but with grownups. It's not uncommon for someone to throw themselves prostrate on the floor in front of him. He spends a lot of time waving his hands and saying “No! No! Get up! Please! Get up!”

Emanuel and Chris and I, confident that we've done all we can do to prepare wander off in search of a bottle of scotch. Phong is nervous, he's put years into this day. Chris is a wedding photographer who is so used to all this none of the possible disasters Phong brings up raise an eyebrow on him. After all, this is just like a gigantic wedding – lots of preparation, lots of variables, and in the end, you just tuck in, stay fluid, and go where the winds push the day, when plans change, you change with them.

As the proverb goes: "The tree that does not bend with the wind will be broken by the wind."

We walk into a liquor store on Lexington and right in the middle of a Laphroag tasting. It seems the fates have decided. We are, after all, Leica owners.

So we sit up for a while, catching up – it's been a while since we've seen one another. Tina thinks we've met once, in Boston years ago, yet I remain skeptical. We did work together, years back, over the Internet raising money for an orphanage in Romania. She spends much of her time in South America, photographing for non-profits and it was an obvious collaboration, but I think I'd remember if we'd met before. Chris had hosted Trillian and me the summer before when I had a gallery show in New Orleans – and we'd once been thrown out of a swamp together, which is always good conversation. Emanuel is from Canada and has spent years in the arctic photographing the Inuit. I'd only met him once before, in 2005 during the last visit of the Dalai Lama we photographed. He's eminently likeable and so very openly emotional, profoundly moved by the experiences, so very human.



The next morning we get up early, collect our gear and sit around. Waiting for the phone. It rings at 8:30. Tina's being sent to the airport to meet the Dalai Lama's plane, which is arriving from Canada, Chris to the Manhattan center to photograph the setup and the people waiting in line. Me … I hang around the hotel sticking to Phong like glue, which basically means sitting around in a room filled with DSS agents. The Diplomatic Security Service is a branch of the State Department, among lots of other things, they protect visiting political figures.

Kevin, who's running the security at the hotel's back door, where the entourage arrives, is a friendly guy in his early 30's who looks an awful lot like Jake Gyllenhaal.

“You probably have all these hotels mapped out already,” I say, remarking at how well they have everything covered.

“Most of them, the ones were these people stay. If it was a the Motel Six we might need to do a bit more research first.”

The street out front is filling with people, barricades go up and agents are posted by the door. I walk through the lobby and photograph groups of monks who are snapping photos of one another in front of the famous clock. Bill Murray, the actor, is milling around the lobby too. I suppose this sort of thing happens all the time at this hotel.

We get a call from Tina that they're nearby, I head back down to the entrance where 200 or so people have gathered. I duck inside and wait. The motorcade pulls up. DSS agents surround it, looking into the crowd for threats, then a secret knock on a window, another agent gets out of the front seat and opens the back door. I can see yellow and maroon, the traditional Tibetan monk's habit. The Dalai Lama shakes hands and waves to well wishers then comes in the hotel where the organizers greet him. He shakes hands with Trillian, chats briefly with bellhops, blesses the faithful. Finally he retires to his room with a couple of the organizers. It's still several hours before the event at the Manhattan center is scheduled to start.

The Dalai Lama has lunch, Chris and Trillian and I decide to head over to the venue. The place is already packed, people started showing up just after dawn and the door open a good two hours before the event. The stage is resplendent with gold and orange tapestries and a hundred monks and nuns sitting cross legged, fifty to a side.

Chris and I photograph monks for a while, something which I particularly enjoy – I find them charismatic and eminently visual. A bunch of them give me their email addresses. Chris takes a bunch of photos of monks with their cameras – it's really just like any other photo event.



Finally Chris and I go out back to wait with the DSS for the motorcade. Emanuel and Tina stay inside, getting more coverage.

The streets are filled with people, waiting behind barricades. The DSS guys are a bit stern, but a bit jolly too. We have a good time talking to them. Phong sees a woman in a wheel chair waiting on the other side of the street, hoping to get a glimpse of the Dalai Lama. He talks to a couple of the other organizers and they decide to bring her over. Phong walks over and I see her face erupt with joy when he explains to her what's happening. She applauds as her wheelchair is pushed over to our side of the street.

The motorcade arrives, DSS agents surround it, His Holiness emerges, the crowd goes crazy. He waves, DSS ushers him to the door. He pauses to talk to the woman in the wheel chair, to greet a woman with cancer, he stands on the steps, turns, and waves to the crowd – a look of sincere happiness on his face and I'm struck that here is a person who gets up every morning trying to be kind, trying to be humble, to excise malice, ill will, to divest himself from non-productive emotions really, trying to be the best human being he can be and I'm overwhelmed by it. We go inside, he heads right up to the stage, Chris and I join Tina and Emanuel out front.

A young girl runs up to the stage shouting “Lama! Lama!” and offering a gift of incense. Some of the monks smile, some look reproachful. The Dalai Lama smiles, bows, takes the gift and passes it off to an attendant.



The teaching begins – or maybe it began long ago. I have to think about this.

I photograph with a 200mm and a 300mm from about ten yards back, then move through the crowd picking out faces, looking for composition, people, groups, details. I'm always sure that everybody else is getting better stuff than me and I'm never quite sure what I'm doing. I trust that the magic will happen. Sometimes it does.

Chris has already shown me that I've been picking the wrong lenses from my camera bag. His main lens is one that, while I own it, I seldom use, having been lured to other things by what I now realize are insubstantial advantages. I suddenly begin to doubt everything I've packed, but I realize this is normal. I move ahead.

A joke about snakes. People open their texts, the hall becomes silent.

Part Three Tomorrow



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Comments:
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[User Picture]From: matociquala
2009-10-13 12:09 pm (UTC)
These are making me so happy. *g*
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[User Picture]From: i
2009-10-13 12:25 pm (UTC)
cutting is for depressed teenage girls. what, is it so hard to scroll for a second? these people need some freaking exercise. it's your journal, do what you want.
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[User Picture]From: hellhound
2009-10-13 12:25 pm (UTC)
People just need to learn to scroll. Don't put these behind a cut, they're too good.
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[User Picture]From: regalpewter
2009-10-13 12:27 pm (UTC)
Generally, I don't mind when one of the photgrapher's on my f-list does a long story post and does not include a cut. You and the other regular photographer post your stories in a very professionial manner so I really never mind the intrusion. I think it is because I enjoy the quality of what you produce that I never seem to mind.
YIS,
WRI
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[User Picture]From: spryng
2009-10-13 12:28 pm (UTC)
Epic.
I love the details - thank you for writing this and making it feel as if we were there too.
As far as length goes, it really depends on what's being written. Something like this that's not only interesting but insightful and full of awesome photos can be as long as it wants to be. I'm rather pleased to see more today.
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[User Picture]From: coraline73
2009-10-13 12:30 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful oppoertunity, and that you for sharing.

(and I don't care that there's no cut - it's your journal, do it the way that seem best to you)
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[User Picture]From: birdhousefrog
2009-10-13 12:35 pm (UTC)
Cut or don't cut. This is too much to miss. It's one I'll gladly click through. For folks still with slow connections, cuts are kind. I'm one of those, slightly faster than dialup but not by much.

I use cuts myself to allow for faster scrolling on busy f-lists. Or for a joke. I enjoy the visuals you use, the in-your-face saturation of your portraits.

These are particularly beautiful shots in those gorgeous colors.

My father was in China/Tibet and was accidentally where the Dalai Lama was. He took shots of the crowd, which included some muscle on motorbikes. They were wearing cowboy hats. It's one of my Dad's best shots, I have it blown up and framed on my wall.

Leica, huh? My Dad is a lifelong Leica fanatic. Enough for all his fingers and toes, I think, though he may have divested some of them by now. I finally gave up mine, let him resell it at an event.
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[User Picture]From: ladycelia
2009-10-13 12:47 pm (UTC)
I loving these posts.

One of the photo instructors at the college I occasionally attend has done some shoots for the Dalai Lama and from what he's said, and what you've written, he sounds like a joy to work with and to be around.

Inquiring minds want to know--what was the lens that Chris was using?
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[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2009-10-13 01:05 pm (UTC)
28-80 2.8 constant aperture.
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[User Picture]From: jfargo
2009-10-13 12:50 pm (UTC)
Loving the series. For the record, I tend to scroll by any LJ cuts, and would hate to miss Part Three due to scrolling without realizing what it was.
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[User Picture]From: karohemd
2009-10-13 12:54 pm (UTC)
Your photos are of reasonable size and this kind of thing is just too good to scroll past, so please don't cut.

Thank you again. It gives a good insight into what's going on at an event like this. The bit with the little girl is just fantastic.

So, what is that secret lens?
I guess for an event like this you don't want to disturb proceedings by using flash so something sharp and wide open, like a 85mm 1.4? It won't get you that close but with a decent sized file, you can probably crop a lot and still get a good shot out of it. One of my favourite gig shots is this one of KD Lang, from about 30 yards away with the 85mm 1.4 (albeit on the D80 so with the DX focal length extension)

Edited at 2009-10-13 12:55 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2009-10-13 01:07 pm (UTC)
chris was using a 28-80 2.8 constant aperture which gave him lovely shallow dof. i was using a 24-120 3.5-5.6 for the close in work. at the manhattan center i was using a 80-200 2.8 and a 300 2.8.
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[User Picture]From: dd_b
2009-10-13 01:07 pm (UTC)
I'm enjoying reading this. For one thing it's more the kind of photography I'm comfortable / used to doing, though not at this level!

And I think it's a small world, if that's the Tina who does stuff with South American orphanages and owns "a" Leica that I know from other online venues. I suppose she didn't get to keep the M9 she got to play with?

One of the many things I'm definitely behind the curve on is use of deliberately tilted camera angles. Nearly all the things you're doing with them work very well for me, so I can't claim not to like the results! Among many other things, it looks to be useful to make the converging / diverging verticals from ultra-wide lenses less obtrusive.
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[User Picture]From: kylecassidy
2009-10-13 01:09 pm (UTC)
yeah, i'm not sure if the dutch horizon is a fad or what. some people are just going crazy with them. but i figure if mary ellen mark is doing it, i can at least experiment.
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[User Picture]From: edenlass
2009-10-13 01:22 pm (UTC)
I'm really enjoying this. As for the cut/no cut debate, it really doesn't matter to me. If I am engaged in the story I am happy to follow the cuts. On the other hand, I don't mind at all having my f-list full of bright, colorful, interesting pictures.
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[User Picture]From: spacedlaw
2009-10-13 01:33 pm (UTC)
I reckon just the bunch of monks and nuns would make great photo opportunities, they are so colourful.
And the little girl is so cute.

CUT: No cut once in a while is not going to kill the internet. I tend to put my pictures heavy post under cut not to make it a drag on my LJ friends with slow connections, but my own is decent so I don't mind.
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