Phil Borges was last at Mountainfilm in 2003, when he exhibited photography from and spoke about his book Portraits of Tibet. He returns now with new images from the same place, which has transformed into a country of people who are watching a longtime way of life disappear during their lifetime. (You can see these works at Telluride Gallery of Fine Art.)
His new book — Tibet: Culture on the Edge — accurately captures the two great challenges that Tibet and its people face today: Chinese eradication of their way of life and climate change. Both are slow moving, but relentless.
Borges first went to Tibet in 1994 and writes about the rapid change that the Chinese have brought to the country. Some of these changes could be considered progress — dusty two-lane roads have become superhighways — but others are abolishing an ancient culture and its rich traditions. Chinese edicts mandate that Tibetan children are taught in Mandarin, an example of one of many draconian measures that have prompted massive unrest and, recently, an unprecedented wave of self-immolations by Tibetan monks and nuns.
Climate change may prove to be the more destructive force, however, as the Tibetan Plateau — with an average altitude of 14,000 feet — contains the largest volume of fresh frozen water on earth. Also known as “The Water Tower of Asia,” this region supplies nearly one-third of the world’s population with water, but because of its combination of high altitude and low latitude, it’s heating up twice as fast as the global average.
Borges has documented indigenous cultures for more than three decades — his photo graces the cover of this program — and he’s determined to bring an understanding of the challenges these people face to a larger audience.
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