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Throckmorton Fine Art opens an exhibition of photographic images by Don Farber
After ten years of photographing Buddhist life in microcosm, mainly in one temple in Los Angeles, Farber set out to photograph Buddhist life with as wide a perspective as possible.

NEW YORK, NY.- Throckmorton Fine Art is presenting a special exhibition, Vision of Buddhist Life, of photographic images by photographer and Fulbright Scholar Don Farber at its New York gallery from March 5 – April 18, 2020.

In 1968, when he was 16, Don Farber’s future revealed itself when he took a class at Barnsdall Park Junior Art Center in Los Angeles with documentary photographer and NEA Grant recipient, Seymour Rosen. On a field trip, Rosen took his students to see an exhibit by the master photographer Dorothea Lange at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Standing before her work, Farber’s experience of her images was so profound, he decided on the spot that photography was to be his life’s work.

Farber would become Seymour Rosen’s apprentice before studying photography formally at the Manchester College of Art in England and then at the San Francisco Art Institute. In San Francisco, he studied with Lange’s assistant, Richard Conrat, as well as with Lange’s colleague in the Farm Security Administration, photographer and pioneer in the field of visual anthropology, John Collier, Jr.

In 1973, as an independent studies project to complete his BFA, Farber spent nine months photographing organic farmers at work in North San Diego County. After graduating, Farber began working as a professional photographer in Los Angeles.

Like many others in his generation, Farber began a personal exploration into Eastern spiritual traditions. In 1977, he discovered Chua Viet-Nam, the first Vietnamese Buddhist temple in America (there are now more than 3,000), which had been established by the Vietnamese Zen Master and scholar, Ven. Dr. Thich Thien-An, for the newly arrived Vietnamese refugees following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Farber was so moved by their spiritual way of life transplanted intact in Los Angeles, that he decided to make a book about life at the temple. He became a disciple of Dr. Thien-An and nearly every Sunday for ten years, he went to the temple to photograph, practice Buddhism, and interview members of the temple. Also, during those years, Farber was photographing at other Buddhist temples in Los Angeles representing Thai, Korean, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, and Sri Lankan traditions.

Dr. Thien-An passed away from lung cancer in 1980 at the age of 55. From this experience of losing his teacher, Farber became acutely aware of how important it is to record the great Buddhist masters so that future generations have a record of these sublime beings who have carried forward the Buddha’s teachings from disciple to student for more than 2,500 years. After Thien-An’s passing, Farber continued photographing at the Vietnamese temple. He also practiced and photographed for two years at the Zen Center of Los Angeles, which had been established by the Japanese Zen master, Taizan Maezumi Roshi.

In 1985, Farber became a student of the Tibetan Buddhist master, Ven. Geshe Gyaltsen, at Thubten Dharge Ling Buddhist center in Los Angeles and with great dedication, Farber began to make portraits of the last living Tibetan Buddhist masters to have received their training in the old Tibet. Farber made two trips to Asia in 1985 and 1987 to photograph Buddhist life in Japan, Taiwan, and China. His book, Taking Refuge in LA: Life in a Vietnamese Buddhist Temple, with text by Rick Fields and introduction by Thich Nhat Hanh, was published by Aperture in 1987.

After ten years of photographing Buddhist life in microcosm, mainly in one temple in Los Angeles, Farber set out to photograph Buddhist life with as wide a perspective as possible. He established the Dharma Heritage Project with the purpose of photographing and documenting Buddhist life internationally as it still existed. Trusting his instincts, he took a leap of faith, giving up much of his freelance work and finding sponsors and grants in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and the US.

In 1986 and then in 1988, Farber photographed the great Tibetan master Kalu Rinpoche when he visited California and New Mexico. After he passed away in 1989 at the age of 84, Farber went to photograph the last ten days of his 49-day funeral at his monastery near Darjeeling, India. Immediately on Farber’s return to California, he served as the official photographer for the Kalachakra teachings given by the Dalai Lama in Santa Monica.

Between 1989 and 1993 Farber spent half of his time living in Japan where he worked closely with the Japan Buddhist Federation to capture Buddhist life in that country. He also photographed in Thailand, South Korea, Nepal, Taiwan, and Indonesia during those years.

By 1997, the West had become more aware of Buddhism in general and specifically the plight of Tibetans and the urgency for the Tibetan refugees, guided by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, to preserve their spiritual culture in exile. Farber was given a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to photograph and research the religious life of Tibetan refugees in India. Along with his young daughter Palmo and Tibetan wife Yeshi, who had grown up in Tibetan refugee settlements in India, Farber spent nearly a year in India carrying out his work. While there, Farber was granted rare access by the Dalai Lama to photograph him in a variety of situations, which he suggested, including when he sat in meditation before sunrise in his residence, when he gave the Kalachakra teachings to 200,000 Tibetans near Siliguri, and when he gave teachings in the extremely remote Zanskar Valley in Ladakh in the far north of India.

In 2002, Farber’s next book, Visions of Buddhist Life, was published by the University of California Press. The last third of the book is made up with photographs from the Fulbright project. The foreword by the preeminent teacher of world religions, Huston Smith, begins: “This book is the story of two loves that merged to become one. Don Farber’s first love was photography, his chosen profession––or more accurately his vocation, for it came to him as a calling. Then, at a relatively early age, a second love, Buddhism, entered his life and caught up with the first.”

His next three books also included photography from the Fulbright project. They included Tibetan Buddhist Life (DK Press, 2003), Tibetan Buddhist Masters (University of California Press, 2005), and His Holiness the Dalai Lama (teNeues, 2009).

Some of the museums where Farber’s work has been exhibited include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Asia Society Museum and MoMA PS1 in New York. His photography is in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Oakland Museum of California. His images have been published on the covers of many books including the Dalai Lama’s international bestseller, The Art of Happiness, in magazines including Time and Life, and he has been a frequent contributor for many years to the Buddhist magazines, Tricycle and Lion’s Roar.

Around 2004, Farber added filmmaking to his work as a photographer of Buddhist life. In addition to the portraits of Tibetan elders, he began to film oral history interviews with the Tibetan Buddhist masters. In addition, Farber is completing a documentary film about the Japanese Zen master, Joshu Sasaki Roshi, filmed over a period of four years until his passing in 2014 at the age of 107.

In addition to his Fulbright Scholarship, Farber has received grants from the California Arts Council, California Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Asian Cultural Council.

Farber has been interviewed for the UCLA Center for Oral History Research. As well, he is in the process of creating a permanent archive of his photography, video, audio recordings, published works, and writings for the UCLA Library Special Collection’s Archive of Buddhism in Los Angeles.

Farber established the Dharma Heritage Project in 1988 and in 2010, it was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The project’s mission is to “Chronicle Buddhism’s contributions to world cultural heritage and peace through the art of documentary photography and film with an emphasis on endangered Buddhist cultures.”

Farber continues his work photographing Buddhist life and making his photography available to the public through exhibitions, books, magazines, online, and by making prints for collectors and museums. his unique vision, access and profound commitment to preserving these traditions have insured that future generations will be able to see and know the great teachers and the wisdom they so generously shared.

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