On a winter afternoon in 2002, Switzerland-born Buddhist monk Nicholas Vreeland, 57, was taking photographs of nothing in particular at his Rato Drastang monastery in Karnataka, his home since 1985. This exercise surprised fellow monks.
"I was practicing to take pictures of His Holiness Dalai Lama on his visit to monastery the next day," recalls Vreeland.
He white washed one of the walls of the monastery and wanted to ensure that he acquaints himself with the surroundings and the natural light so that he could shoot well the next day.
Next day, when the Dalai Lama arrived, the situation was completely different. "There were a lot of people, the policemen were trying to control the crowd and getting into my frame but His Holiness gave me a great picture."
This full-length, black and white picture of Dalai Lama is one of Vreeland's favourite of the twenty photographs' exhibition Photos of Rato, which will be held at the ICIA gallery (Institute of Contemporary Indian Art), Mumbai, from January 16 to January 26.
The exhibition, organised by Tasveer, an organisation that promotes photography, documents the life of monks at the Rato Drastang monastery over the last 20 years.
"All the photographs are taken within 30 metres of my room," says Vreeland. The sales of the exhibition will be used to maintain the recently renovated 14th-century Rato Drastang monastery.
"In 2008, during the economic recession, all our donors who promised to help us construct new structures of the old monastery disappeared. Fellow monks suggested that I exhibit my pictures to accumulate funds for the monastery, which proved to be a good idea."
The photographs, with 10, 20 and 25 copies of different sizes are sold for $1,000 to $5,000.