My Dalai Lama photo shoot
I've been fortunate to participate in some interesting scenarios during my life. I've hiked the 226 mile John Muir Trail solo, and slept on the summit of Mount Whitney. Recorded guitar alongside the London Symphony orchestra (with Sinead O' Connor on vocals). And photographed the Dalai Lama.
A week after I got the call: I had begun mentally preparing for the shoot. As I was the only photographer permitted this involved sleepless nights going over lens selections, and panicking about which direction the light would hit the room - no flash allowed. I called my 'real photographer' friends for advice and there was a protocol to be followed. I had to pass a secret service background check. All in all, the preparation involved had surpassed any shoot to date - and I had decided I was going to use four cameras, and an assistant.
The night before the shoot: I was introduced to Lama Tenzin (HHDL right hand monk) , completed a walkthrough of the event space where His Holiness was to speak to a small group of compassionate women in leadership, and discovered that the Dalai Lama's path to the event involved a walk through the hotel kitchen. This was it! The setting I was looking for. We've all seen the Dalai Lama with head bent, hands to the forehead. Hugging children. Giving blessings. But how many photos have we seen of him in a kitchen? I learned that he was going to walk through the kitchen and then down a long back corridor to enter through a side door into the event. This was perfect! I could plant myself at the end of the corridor and photograph him as he walked towards me. Baker trays on the left and right. I was ready..
The day of event: My gear had gone through the bomb squad sweep at 6a.m. and I'd introduced myself to the head of the secret service and asked her about my corridor plan, which she said would be fine. The kitchen staff began cleaning up the corridor when they saw me setting up my gear to photograph, and I'd been alerted that the Dalai Lama had decided to come down sooner than expected. The plan was to knock off some shots with a long lens and swap to a camera with a shorter prime lens as he got closer. The secret service were lined along the hallway with poker faces and around the corner came Lama Tenzin. I took position behind the camera and the Dalai Lama came around the corner next, and although he was beaming from ear to ear he looked a little different in person. Maybe because he had his glasses off.. I took as many photos as I could before swapping out my camera. Someone tapped me on my shoulder and when I turned around Lama Tenzin was discreetly trying to tell me - Kim, Kim, not Dalai Lama, quick, here!