Thirty years in Tibet: from refugees to the Dalai Lama

Swiss photographer Manuel Bauer’s connection to Tibet began 30 years ago with a reportage on the life of the Tibetan diaspora in Dharamsala in northern India. The fate of the Tibetan people has become the focus of his work.

Bauer meets us in his studio in the former industrial district of Winterthur, outside Zurich. The ground floor of the former industrial workers’ house has been Bauer’s retreat for many years. Previously he had a dark room in the cellar, which remains filled with old-fashioned equipment. But today, piled between the magnifiers, are boxes of books and photos from previous exhibitions which prove that this photographer, with his almost anachronistic work ethic, made the jump to digital a long time ago.

We rummage through the boxes of photos. The ones we pick out immediately give an overview of Bauer’s 30-year career. He shot the black-and-white images of six-year-old Yangdol’s flight over the Himalayas himself. He wistfully recalls how the film was smuggled out of Tibet and developed by colleagues who had just returned home.

Also in front of us are old pictures of the Dalai Lama. The most recent ones are from the Tibetan spiritual leader’s most recent visit to Switzerland in April 2013. Switzerland is home to one of the largest, most politically active and best-integrated communities of exiled Tibetans.

Bauer has always reflected on and critically questioned his attitude to photography and journalism. Working conditions for photojournalists with similarly high demands for quality have changed in recent years – many say for the worse. But astonishingly, Bauer doesn’t complain about this; instead he affirms his unbroken faith in the medium: “I still see great power in photography!”

(Images: Manuel Bauer and Thomas Kern/ Text: Thomas Kern /

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