Nicholas Vreeland is the new Abbot of Rato Dratsang, an important Tibetan Buddhist monastery under the patronage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Vreeland is also Director of the Dalai Lama’s spiritual-oriented Tibet Center in New York City. He is a Buddhist monk and holds a Geshe degree, the equivalent of a PhD.
Born in Geneva, Switzerland, to American parents, Vreeland was educated in Europe, North Africa, and the United States, after which he pursued a career in photography. In the late sixties and early seventies, Vreeland studied film at New York University and worked as an assistant to Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. In 1977 he met Khyongla Rato Rinpoche, founder of The Tibet Center, and in 1985 Vreeland became a monk.
Vreeland is the editor of the books, An Open Heart, a New York Times best seller, and the 2011 release, A Profound Mind, both authored by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He is also founder of Photos for Rato, a series of fund-raisers that have been held in France, Italy, Germany, India, and the U.S., which underwrote, through the sale of his photographs, a large part of the re-construction of Rato Monastery in India.
On April 20, 2012, His Holiness the Dalai Lama appointed Geshe Vreeland as the new Abbot of Rato Monastery. This was an historic moment; the first time that a Westerner had been appointed abbot of an important Tibetan Buddhist monastery. On making the appointment, His Holiness stated, “Your special duty (is) to bridge Tibetan tradition and Western world.” Vreeland divides his time between The Tibet Center in New York and Rato Dratsang in India.
Nicholas Vreeland’s most recent exhibit of photos, held at the Leica Gallery NYC, April 2012, was entitled Return to the Roof of the World.
This series of black and white photographs documents Nicholas Vreeland’s 2003 journey accompanying his teacher, Khyongla Rato Rinpoche, as Rinpoche returned to his birthplace. The photographs Nicholas took during this horseback voyage to the “Roof of the World” capture moments of longing and reunion, and record the landscape and lifestyle of Dagyab district in eastern Tibet. It is an exhibition that deeply touches the heart.
Return to the Roof of the World - Photographs by Nicholas Vreeland
This exhibition follows the journey of photographer and Buddhist monk, Nicholas Vreeland, as he accompanies his teacher, Khyongla Rato Rinpoche on his return to his birthplace, after an absence of 50 years. Rinpoche, who has the title of an incarnated lama, was exiled to India in 1959, and is the author of “My Life and Lives, The Story of a Tibetan Incarnation.” In 2003, he returned to his birthplace in Dagyab, eastern Tibet.
These black and white photographs document the voyage of teacher and disciple as they ride horseback for many hours each day, toward the “Roof of the World.” They detail the striking landscapes and unadorned lifestyles of eastern Tibet.
The photographs of Rinpoche being welcomed warmly by devotees, many of whom had never before seen their lama, demonstrate the high place Tibetan Buddhism holds in the lives of the Tibetan people. These images inevitably have a religious character – they reflect the thousand year old heritage of a Buddhist country and illustrate the central role that religion plays in the life and culture of Tibet.
Collection of Portraits
Additionally, a set of color portraits is included in this exhibition. In 1979, Nicholas Vreeland was invited by the Indian Department of Tourism to photograph the national costumes of India. However, once in India, he met a Tibetan incarnate lama, and that lama, impressed with Vreeland’s Deardorff 5”x7” (13x18cm) camera, introduced him to another high incarnate lama to photograph, and that lama recommended him on to yet another and so on.
By the end of this process, Nicholas came away with one of the most impressive bodies of work on the eminent teachers in Tibetan Buddhism. Dignitaries he photographed include His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as His Holiness’ personal teachers and debating partners: the late Yongzin Ling Rinpoche and Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche. Vreeland has since also photographed the reincarnations of both of these Rinpoches. A select few of these color portraits are included in the exhibition.
MONK WITH A CAMERA
Chronicles the life and spiritual quest of Nicholas (Nicky) Vreeland.
Nicholas Vreeland walked away from a worldly life of privilege to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Grandson of legendary Vogue editor, Diana Vreeland, and trained by Irving Penn and Richard Avedon to become a photographer, Nicholas’ life changed drastically upon meeting a Tibetan master, one of the teachers of the Dalai Lama. Soon thereafter, he gave up his glamorous career to live in a monastery in India, where he was a full-time student of Buddhism for the next fourteen years. In an ironic twist of fate, Nicholas went back to photography on the basis of which he largely financed the rebuilding of his monastery. Recently, the Dalai Lama appointed Nicholas as Abbot of that monastery, making him the first Westerner in Tibetan Buddhist history to attain this highly regarded position.
Nicholas Vreeland on Photography
“I photograph what’s before me. I aim the camera, adjust the exposure, and click. That’s photography. I work to give a certain order to the visual elements before me, to bring harmony to the content: the subject matter, forms, light and darkness. This is accomplished by where I take my picture from, by the focal length I chose, and by the moment that I click the shutter. I am responsible for the choices I make; I determine what I aim the camera at, and decide just how to frame.
I try not to impose my view of what something should look like. I’m not interested in artifice in photography; I try to be true to what I see before me. A certain technical rigor is essential. Without it I wouldn’t have control over the photographic process and wouldn’t be able to create the image I see.
For me, photography is visual poetry. We are all poets; each of us has his or her own take on our experience of life. Slowly, over years of living, of photographing, of perfecting our technique and our eye, our photographs become a reflection of who we are.”
2009 “Photos for Rato” exhibition – New York, Chicago, Paris, and Milan
2010 “Photos for Rato” exhibition – Delhi, India, and Napoli, Italy
2011 “Photos for Rato” exhibition – Berlin, Germany
2011 Solo exhibition “Return to the Roof of the World” – Leica Gallery in New York
2012 Group exhibition “Group portraits of Central Park” – Leica Gallery in New York
2013 Group exhibition “A Gathering of Images – celebrating the 20th year of The Leica Gallery in New York” – Leica Gallery in New York
2014 Solo exhibition “Return to the Roof of the World” – Huashan Creative Park in Taipei, Taiwan
Vreeland also has compiled and edited His Holiness’ talks in New York into the books:
An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life
A Profound Mind: Cultivating Wisdom in Everyday Life
Nicholas Vreeland’s Return to the Roof of the World Photographic Exhibition at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, and the screening of the documentary Monk with a Camera, The Life and Journey of Nicholas Vreeland.