Nostalgia imbues army photographer's images of Tibet

Mon Mar 23, 2009 5:56am EDT
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By Lucy Hornby

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Chinese photographer Lan Zhigui's favorite picture is of two Tibetans on a hillside, watching as a perfect rainbow hovered over their valley.

The year was 1961, ten years after Lan crossed into Tibet with the road-building crews of the People's Liberation Army. The rainbow burst out as he arrived in the steep valley, and lasted for half an hour, the frail 87-year old recounted, eyes gleaming.

Born in Chongqing, Lan was the official photographer who accompanied the army across the high mountain passes from Sichuan to Lhasa in 1951.

Nostalgia shines through Lan's photos, on exhibit at the National Art Museum in Beijing to mark the 50th anniversary of the Chinese establishing full control over Tibet.

Most of the photos date from the early and mid-1950s, a time called "the honeymoon" by historian A Tom Grunfeld, when a Tibetan cabinet coexisted uneasily with Chinese administrators.

Lan roamed about Tibet by horse, by jeep and by foot. He spent happy weeks in the lowlands, documenting the forest tribes being resettled in river valleys.

"I love this girl, you can see her necklace is made of old British silver coins," he said, standing by a portrait of a young girl from the Dengba ethnicity.

"Of course, she thought her earrings were the prettiest."   Continued...