Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ngadrama: "Same As Me" Statue Can Be Recreated, Part 1



For years, it amused my father to keep a little sign on his desk: "Every story has three sides -- yours, mine, and the facts." As I piece together the story of Ngadrama -- the famous "Same As Me" statue of Guru Rinpoche, I am frequently reminded of that sign -- and of the little sing-song saying, "I know not what the truth may be, only what was told to me."

Apparently, HRH the Queen Mother of Sikkim, Gyalyum Kunzang Dechen Tsomo Namgyal, was gifted with an Agfa camera -- and we don't know if this was a 35mm Agfa or a roll-to-roll Agfa (I will explain why this is important in a moment) -- and, in 1935, while visiting relatives, used this camera to take a photograph of the famous Guru Ngadrama statue at Samye.

From 1935 to the early 1950s, nobody gives this photograph much thought. It is treasured, and one or two prints are made, but no great sense of significance attaches.

Then, in 1955, Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro comes to reside at the Palace Monastery in Gangtok, Sikkim, sees the photograph, and develops the custom of giving copies to his favorite students. In 1958, not long before his death, he gives one such copy to Tarthang Rinpoche, and in 1968, Tarthang Rinpoche gives one such copy to me. You can always tell these from later copies, such as those below, by the presence of the sphere, and by the way the photo is cropped. Also, there is no khatvanga in the original photo.

This photograph has always been important to me for several reasons, most of which are of a personal nature, and don't warrant much discussion. That the statue it represents was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution -- during my lifetime -- has always been a source of sorrow to me. In the back of my mind is the rather crazy notion that I should have done something to prevent its destruction. Funny how we get ideas like that.

Since learning of its destruction -- and I have heard several, wildly differing accounts of this sad event -- I have been thinking of ways to restore the statue to Samye: a task not as easy as it sounds. The greatest obstacle -- in a whole list of obstacles -- has been the above photograph: it is the only one of its type, and nobody seems to know what has happened to the negative.

If we had just two photographs, taken at different angles -- even a hair apart -- technology could help. Alas, it seems we have only this one photograph.

So, this has been a project I have been toying with for over 40 years -- not every day, mind you -- but in fits and starts. For some reason, I was moved to begin musing about this in public the other day -- here on the blog -- and finally, I was able to strike a resonant chord.

I am very excited to tell you that we now have the tools, the talent, and the technology available, and this project is really underway. Friends of mine have assembled a team of experts, in several related fields, who are now working to bring the Guru Ngadrama statue back to life.

As it happens, you can help (and no... calm down... this isn't about money).

One of the several approaches we are using is to produce an image which, if photographed as the original, would give us an image identical with the original photograph -- using planes, or "slices," by which we can extrapolate hidden dimensions. Thus, we need to know precisely what sort of Agfa camera was used, so we can go buy one on the collector's market and use it for our tests.

Another critical element of information is to discover if any other photographs exist -- and we are scouring the world for these. Are you close to the British Library? Would you mind popping 'round and searching their photographic collections? Are you close to the German National Archives? Did your grandfather visit Tibet and take photographs? Are you in China, and well connected? Are you a world-class art historian? A Tibetologist?

You get the idea.

The beauty of the Internet is that it inculcates a collaborative environment at light speed. If you can help with this project by supplying elements of information, please know that your efforts will be most worthwhile.

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6 reader comments:

Anonymous said...

Two things of note:
1. My teacher, just before he recently passed away, kept mentioning repeatedly how he would like to make images of Padmasambhava exactly like the Ngadrama. Clearly, something is afoot.
2. Samye Ling is currently under the control of the Sakyapas. I don't know how long this has been the case, but if prior to 1959, they may have photos of the interior and possibly the Ngadrama. Worth investigating if anyone has connections to the Sakyapa.

Editor said...

That is actually true. You see photos of Dilgo Khyentse and Sakya Trizin on all the shrines.

Well, we are certainly throwing energy at this project... and at this point, all it really takes is one more photo of the statue from a different angle. The engineers who are on this are just incredible.

I want to say that I really respect the talented sculptors and so forth who have tried to do things like this in the past, but lets face it -- nobody can hold a candle to Hollywood when it comes to edge-of-envelope light and magic.

Dh. Sinhadakini said...

This picture is very important to me, it has been the most important image in my 30 year Buddhist practice. Can you update me on how this important project has proceeded and bring me up to date.
Paula Grierson

Editor said...

About the most significant development is an attempt to take photographs of the original photograph from thousands of different angles, and then use these to extrapolate what the elusive "other" photo might look like. Next, we think we may have located another photo, and we are trying to get ahold of it in the face of stiff obstacles. We are not entirely sure that it isn't a photo of the original photo, which is what inspired us to computer generate thousands of different angles. The funding and so forth for this project is still all very fine, and we are just sticking with our original purposes. There have been scammers come and go, offering to sell us this, do for us that, etc., but that is just bird calls. Admittedly, work has been slow, and that is entirely my fault.

Anonymous said...

it has to be a "Roll" Agfa didnt come out with a 35mm until 1937 after the photo was taken! use the above link. Hope this helps

Anonymous said...

According to a photographer friend "according to the camera history info, Agfa did not introduce a 35mm format camera until 1937 - so if the story as told above is accurate, the camera had to be a 120 roll camera. I'm afraid it is the best you are going to come up with unless someone can produce a 2nd image...the image in the article is cropped, so exact framing cannot be determined. However, you can tell that the photo was taken fairly straight on, and at eye level. There is vertually no paralax or scewing of the perspective which would occur if it were taken at an angle or from below. The framing of the altar is very square to the crops"