Writings & Photography
Autobiographical Sketch & Work Statement
I WAS BORN in Boston, Massachusetts and raised just outside Boston. After attending Goddard College and the University of Vermont, graduating with a degree in Comparative Religion and Literature, I was based in Vermont for many years. Apart from my numerous journeys to India and my extended times living in the Indian Himalayas, I have also lived for long periods in both Lisbon, Portugal, and in the mountains of the southern Mexican state Chiapas. More recently, together with my wife Barbara Gerke, an anthropologist, I’ve lived in the foothills of India’s Western Himalayas, Oxford, Berlin, and Vienna. 
    I have lectured widely on my books and photographs, including at Oxford University, the Rubin Museum of Art, New York, the University of California Santa Barbara, and at Humboldt University of Berlin and Phillip University of Marburg, Germany. My articles have appeared in Parabola Magazine and the Himalaya Journal
    I had solo exhibits of my photographs at the Nicholas Roerich Memorial Trust Art Center and Gallery in Nagar, in the Kullu Valley of Himachal Pradesh in India’s western Himalayas, as well as at the Tibet House in Frankfurt, Germany, which was titled ‘The Tibetan World in India’ (Tibetische Welt in Indien). 
 
WRITING AND PHOTOGRAPHY have been dual pursuits of mine for a long time. While writing has generally taken the upper hand, the scales are beginning to tip towards photography. The common element of both is to tell a human story. While my last two books—A Step Away from Paradise (Penguin, 2011) and The Master Director (HarperCollins, 2014)—have each been richly illustrated with over 80 of my photographs, these photographs have been there to compliment the story, which was primarily told in words. 
    Lately, I’ve been increasingly drawn to visual expression, pursuing more purely photographic projects, primarily in black and white, a sampling of which you can view in the PHOTO GALLERIES. I am continuously fascinated by the interplay of these two means of expression, the verbal and the visual, but have been gradually coming to the conclusion that photographs stand best on their own with a minimum of verbal interference, apart from an introduction to set the place, time, and intention.  
    Both photography and writing have been passions for me, avenues of expression, and crafts that I have spent years patiently developing. Although I must leave the quality of my photographs and writings for others to judge, my passion for both disciplines grows, as does my love of stories and images that both entertain and offer windows into unusual places and the people I’ve had the good fortune to come to know. My ultimate hope is to spur the reader and viewer into exploring his or her own depths. 
 
I HAVE OFTEN WONDERED whether I found the stories that I’ve told in my books, or whether the stories found me. There is an uncanny dynamic at play, which I am yet to fathom.

    My first book,
WINDBLOWN CLOUDS (2003 & 2006), tells the story of a journey I took as a young man, at the age of 21. The first part tells of my time living on a mountaintop monastery in Greece with the ancient stone monastery’s one inhabitant, a fiery-eyed old Orthodox monk who had been living alone amongst the clouds and rocks for over forty years. The second part begins the day I left the mountain, got on a Greek ferry, and happened to sit next to Ed Spencer, a brilliant 70-year-old ex-Harvard professor and wandering ascetic who left his life in the West for India long before I was born. Within an hour of meeting him, he said, “I think you should come with me to India.” I did, and I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like if I had happened to take a different seat on that ferry.

    A STEP AWAY FROM PARADISE (Penguin, 2011) all began when a Tibetan friend and thangka painter in the former Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim said, “You like stories? My mother-in-law has a true story from when she was young that will stretch your sense of reality.” I had no idea the impact her story would have on me, and how many years I’d spend tracking down her story’s details and historic background. Her three-hour recounting of how she and over 300 others followed a visionary lama into the high Himalayan glaciers in 1962 in order to ‘open the way’ to a hidden land of immortality—a real-life Shangri-La—fired my imagination and set me on my course across the Himalayas to search out others, mostly now in their 70s and 80s, who were once willing to give up this world for one far greater.

    THE MASTER DIRECTOR (HarperCollins, 2014) also started innocently enough when chance brought me to a Sikkimese village the very day their ‘living god,’ a Himalayan spiritual master and Tibetan lama, was arriving. For some reason he liked me and seemed as interested in how my mind worked (he’d never been around a Westerner) as I was in his. He invited me to travel with him, which I did—and continued to do on and off for the next couple of years. The book provides an open-minded skeptical and intimately close-up view of the life of the most unusual person I’ve ever had the pleasure to spend time with. All was not always easy, especially when it became clear that he was involved with the local thuggish dictator and his henchmen, and my probing questions forced me to flee the area and put off the publishing of the book for some years. 
 
MY CURRENT PHOTO PROJECTS arise from the same basic impetus as my written projects: to tell the story of people I’ve encountered and to convey the atmosphere of places I’ve been. As a story teller and photographer, I am fascinated how a photograph can capture an entire story in a fraction of a second, how a single image can convey a sense of character, or reveal the nuance of place. 
 
I AM PRESENTLY WORKING ON THREE DISTINCT PHOTO PROJECTS:
 
1. Portraits and Street Scenes from the Indian City of Varanasi 
    This series, which is nearing completion (thanks in large part to a generous three-month fellowship at the Centro Incontri Umani in Ascona, Switzerland, during the summer of 2015), was taken mostly on one short section of a road leading to the Ganges River and in the surrounding winding alleyways in the sacred Indian city of Varanasi. While photographing there, I rarely felt the need to explore other parts of the city. By standing in any one place, the vast river of humanity would pass before my lens with all its joys and sorrows.  
    The city is teaming with life and death, and with its burning ghats and mourners it is a reminder of the mortality we all face. Every extreme is present, from the innocence of youth to bent age, riches to extreme destitution, spiritual insight to the shadow of madness. Simply wandering the alleyways near the river or standing still and with eyes and heart wide open is enough to turn anyone towards philosophical ruminations. It certainly moved me deeply. It is my hope that at least some of this is reflected in my photographs. 
 
2. Landscapes from the Greek Island of Ikaria 
    I first went to Ikaria in search of the Greece I knew from years ago and feared was gone with the advent of the Euro and the general homogenization that has overtaken so many places in the last years. Even as I went there, I feared it was but a dream I was chasing. I was looking for a photo/writing project and was ready to reflect upon whatever I encountered. 
    To my surprise, and delight, I found on Ikaria a vestige of the Greece I once knew (and wrote about in my first book, Windblown Clouds), and I felt immediately welcomed and at home. The place resonated with me. But my even greater surprise is that though I’ve been writing about my experience of the island and the people I encountered, the main project to date emerging from my extended stays on the island is not stories from nor portraits of the island’s inhabitants—neither written or photographic—nor my extensive research into the island’s history; what has emerged is a series of landscape photographs from a particular region of the island’s upper mountainous reaches. These heights are far from human habitation, where the elements are powerful, where stone and wind produce balancing boulders with strangely animate shapes, where clouds cloak the mountains, then lift to reveal trees twisted into knots. Spending hours a day up there for weeks on end, sometimes entirely alone, revealed more to me than just the outer landscape. Maybe it was the way my eye caught the shapes of beings looking back at me from the rocks, maybe it was the intensity of the silence and the raw forces that were at play. 
 
3. Street Photography of European Cities 
    While living in and visiting some of the great European cities—including Berlin, Vienna, Paris, Oxford, and London—I’ve wandered with my camera and my eyes wide open, ready for that fraction of a second that might capture a moment’s essence. 
    When I set out, I typically have little conception of what I am looking for. I like it better that way, to be merely receptive and alert, open for images I wouldn’t have set out to capture had I thought of them. 
    The camera provides me with a pretext for my wanderings. Often it is slung out of sight by my side. It has brought me to places I otherwise would not have seen. It helps me look more closely, to attentively explore the links and juxtapositions, harmonies and dissonances, so evident on the street if one only looks.