Faces from Tibet on display at the Marco Center for the Arts

Tibetan monks in the field. Submitted

Tibetan monks in the field. Submitted

Le Petite Gallery, the newest gallery in the Marco Island Center for the Arts, is, as the name would suggest, petite. In its former life, the diminutive space was actually a storage closet.

But it’s the perfect space for hanging the Tibetan Photo Project. This new exhibit, which opens on Feb. 14, is one that, while small in size, is big on impact.

“If there’s one thing I can say I’ve done since I’ve been here, it’s the Petite Gallery,” says center executive director Lynn Holley, who, of course, has done much more than just install a new gallery in her eight months of tenure at the gallery. “It’s really perfect for a single collection of an artist or an idea, and it’s perfect for the Tibetan Photo Project.”

As the name would suggest, the Tibetan Photo Project is a collection of photos of Tibetan monks. However, these photos are a little different than what you might have expected.

“There’s already a huge body of work of pictures from Tibet; that’s been done,” says Joe Mickey, a California-based photographer and one of the cofounders of the Tibetan Photo Project.

What makes the photos in this exhibit unique is that the images are not pictures of Tibetan monks, taken by western photographers. Instead, they’re photos of Tibetan monks and Tibetan refugees in India, taken by the monks themselves.

The project started over a decade ago when Mickey adopted a Tibetan monk through an outreach program.

“I thought I’d send him a disposable camera, not really even thinking much about it, just as an icebreaker,” says Mickey, who’s been a photographer for practically his whole life, publishing his first image at the tender age of 15. Mickey continues, saying, “and he wrote back and said, ‘I don’t know what kind of pictures you want, we do not have a culture of photography here,’ that’s when it clicked. I said to myself, self, this is what’s been missing from the picture.”

Over the next few months, Mickey and his partner, Sazzy Lee Varga, would send boxes and boxes of disposable cameras to monks living in exile in Dharamsala, India. What he got back from them, turned into half of the exhibit showing in Marco Island’s own Petite Gallery.

The other half of what’s hanging in the gallery is just a little bit different.

Shortly after Mickey started promoting the Tibetan Photo Project, he got a call from a lady whose father was part of a 1932 expedition up Minya Kanka in Tibet. The expedition, which has since been chronicled in the famous-in-mountaineering-circles book “Men Against The Clouds,” sought to prove that Minya Kanka was in fact taller than Everest (it’s not).

“The lady says, I have these photos and I’d like to give them to you,” recounts Mickey, adding, “and I said, well, they really don’t fit with what we’re doing, but she said that if I didn’t take them she was throwing them out, so I took them.”

The set of vintage 4x5 negatives contains both images of the expedition and glances of life in Tibet before Chinese rule.

“These photos are particularly unique because they’re photos of Tibet when it was still Tibet,” says Lynn Holley. Holley has shown this exhibit before, in a museum in Santa Barbara, where the collection was well received. And when she created the new Petite Gallery, she immediately knew that it was the perfect space for hanging the Tibetan Photo Project.

“Collections like this are almost always only shown around universities, to have it here in a community art center is really unique,” says Holley.

Also unique will be the way the photos are hung in the gallery. “The photos won’t be hung in frames, instead they’ll be hanging from lines and hooks. That’s how the Tibetans hang the photos, so that’s how we’re going to do it.”

If you go

What: The Tibetan Photo Project at the Marco Island Center for the Arts

When: Exhibit opens February 14, 2012 and runs until March 1, 2012.

Where: The Marco Island Center for the Arts, 1010 Winterberry Ave., Marco Island

Details: For more information, call (239) 394-4221

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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