IN the eyes of many, Tibet is a mysterious land that can purify one’s soul.
That’s also true for photographer Shi Zheng. But his addiction to Tibet is much stronger than for most people since he has gone to the Tibet Autonomous Region every year for 24 straight years, seeking the same thing.
“Just take a look at my pictures, and nearly all of them are about the Tibetan people,” said the photographer, who is in his 50s. “That’s what I have always been looking for there, the purity and simplicity in the eyes of the Tibetans.”
Shi points out one picture of a mother with a small baby in her hands. The mother’s eye expressions are candid and straightforward without any timidity as she faces the camera.
“Even today I can vividly recall that moment,” he said. “I was standing in front of her within such a short distance with my camera. The young mother didn’t have any reason to shy away, because she trusts the people around her and she believes in the world she knows. In fact, it is an act of miraculous mutual trust between strangers, which could not be found in a big metropolis.”
Shi, who was born in Shanghai, works for a television magazine. His main job is to focus his lens on movie stars and celebrities.
“Capturing Tibet is not my job,” Shi said. He had a rare, public exhibition of his work, dubbed a “View of Tibet,” at the Haishang Art Center on Thursday only. “This one-day exhibition is just a visual record for me, my friends and my family,” he said.
Unlike familiar photos of Tibetan landscapes with unbelievable hues of the azure sky and emerald grassland, Shi’s pictures are all in black and white.
“The charm of Tibet is big enough that it can be expressed in black and white. In my opinion, the black-and-white photos also add something mysterious and profound,” Shi explained.
Shi claims that his journey to Tibet is his “soul vacation.” He anxiously anticipates it every year.
“When I go there, I am not a photographer, but a traveler,” he said. “Although I know which angle is the best or which arrangement is the best for a quality picture, I often let it go.”
For example, once he saw some young monks playing football on the grasslands. He immediately visualized the photo in his mind, but instead, he played with them, ignoring the perfect light and shade. “I enjoyed running wildly on a wild land among those kids,” he said, “During my trip there, my camera becomes a tool to shorten the distance with the Tibetans. I used it to play with kids, to chat with the elderly and joked with the young girls.”
For him, the beauty in the pictures doesn’t lie in the arrangement, technique or colors, but in sincerity and purity.
“I believe in the natural moment of a picture, not in something post-processed,” he said, “If there are too many things that have been polished in a picture, then it dilutes the primitive power and energy.”
Although Tibet attracts travelers from around the world every year, complaints and regrets are often voiced that the land and people have changed under the impact of the outside world.
“To tell you the truth, I haven’t experienced any changes,” he said. “Because I go to the deeper areas in Tibet, and nothing’s changed.”
Photographer Shi Zheng has gone to the Tibet Autonomous Region every year for 24 staright years, seeking for sincerity and purity.