Friday, 8 October 2010

NPR: Tibet 100 Years Ago

Photo Courtesy Bonhams

NPR's The Picture Show recently reported that a part of Tibet's history recorded through old photographs was auctioned in London. The photographs (consisting of 70 platinum prints and 2 folding panoramas) were taken by British political officer John Claude White during a 1903 British mission to Tibet, and were sold for £38,400 (or about $60,000).

I love news like that because it fuses history (military), Asia, adventurism and photography. John Claude White was part of the British expedition led by Francis Younghusband who, under orders from George Curzon, was to settle disputes over the Sikkim-Tibet border. In reality, the expedition was to establish British hegemony in Tibet, and morphed into an invasion and occupation of Tibet. This was one of the many chess pieces in The Great Game between Great Britain and Russia to control Central Asia.


Younghusband is subject of a well-documented biography by Patrick French, titled The Last Imperial Adventurer. A fascinating man (comparable in my view to Sir Richard Francis Burton...another incredible adventurer), Younghusband is said to have experienced revelatory visions in the mountains of Tibet, toyed with telepathy in Kashmir, and eventually espoused a sort of atheism, even though he was brought up as an Evangelical Christian.

I always think photojournalists (especially those who work in Iraq and Afghanistan) to read up on history instead of believing the crap we see on television...they'll have a better grasp of what's still going on. The Last Imperial Adventurer is one of those books.

I know...I may be wasting my breath.