Capturing the world through photography

Malibu resident Latana Schachenmann put together a pictorial book of the Buddhist religious center, the Phukthar Monastery. She has also taken photographs for an exhibit of Armenia, a nation not often shown in photos.

By Roxanna McCann / Special to The Malibu Times

Creating “The Phukthar Monastery” has been a life-changing experience for Malibu artist Latana Schachenmann, who uses just her first name in her work. Many doors have been opened as a result of the book, and, she said, she has witnessed a wonderful generosity of human spirit.

Capturing the images for this book of photographs was a monumental task in itself. The monastery is carved into the hillside atop the Himalayas in Zanskar, part of Old Tibet, at an altitude of 13,000 feet. For most of the year it is reachable only by helicopter, and when the mountain passes are not blocked by snow, it is two weeks on foot to the nearest provisions.

Latana had only one hour to photograph the monastery and its residents. After a helicopter dropped her off, she had to scale a shale path with a sheer drop on one side, carrying two still cameras on her back while videotaping her ascent. The thin air made the hike all the more difficult, and to add to the pressure, the helicopter could only land for a few minutes due to technical difficulties. The pilot descended to a lower elevation with the promise to return after an hour.

The monks and approximately 240 young novices live in the Phukthar Monastery in seclusion from the rest of the world practicing, teaching and studying Buddhism. The privation and harsh climate did not diminish their joy or generosity as Latana witnessed.

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“What little they had was for their guests,” Latana wrote in her book.

Seeing how they live at the survival level, so different from her own life, changed Latana’s perspective, she said, and she wanted to translate this life-changing experience into a book.

Meeting and photographing these people inspired her to help them. There was a need for warm clothing, books and school supplies, food and medicine, yet the money to purchase these things was in short supply. She had the idea to make a book to raise funds for and awareness of the monastery. Latana made a short film on her computer and edited her photos into a book. She contacted the Dalai Lama, informing him of her project. He wrote Latana a letter dated Nov. 12, 2003, which is included in the preface of the book.

“I fully support the attempts of Latana Schachenmann in helping the Phuktar monastery in the remote region of Zanskar in Ladakh,” the Dalai Lama wrote.

Latana has been giving presentations about the monastery in Europe and the United States, including last spring at Malibu’s Diesel, A Bookstore. She has also added drawing and gold leaf technique to her repertoire for the book, which has sold well.

The proceeds from the book and the fine art photographs that are available have all gone back to the monastery. At public speaking events in different countries talking about the monastery, Latana said she has been moved by having seen so much good in people-how willing people everywhere are to give and to help-a world-view in sharp contrast to all the bad news one sees on television.

Not only did the Phukthar project lead Latana to public speaking, she was also asked to do a photo essay on Armenia, a country not frequently photographed.

Having become interested in photography while modeling in New York, Latana studied and became a professional photographer. She began showing her work in New York and has since exhibited her work in many locations around the world. Latana’s extensive travels have taken her to many countries, among them Saba, India, Italy, China, Tahiti and now Armenia.

Her photo essays often include altered images. At times, she brushes emulsion onto paper and she also hand-colors images and prints her photographs on many different kinds of paper.

For the project in Armenia, Latana created a collection of strong oversized images. The photo collection was well received at its opening in Geneva, and is now currently being exhibited in Paris.

Latana has lived in Malibu for more than 20 years where she lives with her husband and two children.

More information about the monastery and Latana’s work can be found at the Web site, www.phukthar.com.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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