Miguel Soler-Roig Traveled to a Remote Tibetan Village to Photograph a Lama and End His Vow of Silence

Miguel Soler-Roig, Terminus (2018). Courtesy of Barbara Davis Gallery.

In the summer of 2016, Spanish photographer Miguel Soler-Roig traveled with camera in hand to Dzogchen Village, a remote region in Tibet that’s home to the Dzogchen Monastery. He sought to hear the first words of Long Nuo Duo Bu Lama, a Lama—the name for a teacher or monk in Tibetan Buddhism—who had taken a vow of silence three years prior.

The photos taken during Soler-Roig’s experience make up his current exhibition “Out of Silence” at Barbara Davis Gallery in Houston.

Miguel Soler-Roig, Search (2018). Courtesy of Barbara Davis Gallery.

In the exhibition, we aren’t shown the Lama speaking (though a transcript of his words is installed on a gallery wall near the beginning of the exhibition). Instead, Soler-Roig’s camera follows him as he goes through his humble daily routines: praying, meditating, walking to the temple. At first, the photographer’s presence seems intrusive, but eventually, as Soler-Roig shifts his focus from the Lama to the Tibetan land and culture, the images seem like they are a part of the same search for spiritual enlightenment and inner calm.

In one shot, a bare tree is framed against a stormy sky, while in another picture rolling clouds dapple the landscape while the Himalayas loom in the background. Embedded throughout are layered symbols of Tibetan life: prayer flags strewn across poles, various versions of the Buddha’s visage.

Accompanying Soler-Roig’s photos is a dreamlike video work, in which the Lama appears through wisps of smoke as if he was an apparition. Given the change in medium, we expect to hear the Lama’s voice, but we don’t. We watch as the Lama moves his mouth, in conversation or song, but instead of a recording of the audio, the footage is set to ambient, droning tones. Eventually, a long shot of a puddle in a rainstorm fades into blots of ink on paper, and as the camera pans out, we see the Lama writing the beginning of his first sentences:

“So I have heard: the practice of silence is linked to the notion of Nirvana, related to emptiness and peace. To empty oneself is to be free from all obstacles, to persevere in detachment. The whole world is transient, like the dew, a lightning bolt or a bubble. To disengage from the world means to break with the senses, the limited, the expressible, the impermanent, the earthly existence. We must abandon the mundane persistence to imbue ourselves in the constant, unitary and infinite flow of Nirvana. Only through silence, meditation and interior gaze is it possible to establish an intimate connection with the permanent nature to reach consciousness and wisdom.”

Miguel Soler-Roig, Wind Horse (2018). Courtesy of Barbara Davis Gallery.

The exhibition, like the Lama’s life, is calm and quiet. The purpose of Soler-Roig’s journey may have been to experience the sounds of someone who had previously chosen not to make any, but it seems that it ended up being more of an exercise in looking, learning, and being at peace with silence. After the trip, the artist also made a donation to both the Lama and the monastery.

“Miguel Soler-Roig: Out of Silence” is on view at Barbara Davis Gallery in Houston, Texas, through March 30, 2018.

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