In the Shadow of Everest presents photographer Tom Wool’s images of life in the villages of Tibet’s Rongbuk Valley. Taken over the course of four weeks in May 2001, Wool’s photographs capture the Valley’s rugged terrain which stretches roughly fifty miles from the base of Mount Everest on the north side. Home to some 3,000 Tibetans, the Rongbuk Valley area is of distinct importance to the indigenous population for its sacred geography and religious history. Believed to be the place where earth touches the heav ens, Mount Everest is called “Chomolungma” in Tibetan, meaning “Mother Goddess of the Earth.” The valley is also home to the Rongbuk Monastery, the highest of any in the world at 17,000 feet above sea level.
Tom Wool (1961 – ), The Classroom. Tashi-Dzum, Rongbuk Valley , May 2001. Gelatin silver print
Accompanied by two yakmen and a tiny horse, Wool followed the route taken during the first British expeditions of this area, including that taken by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine as they attempted their ill-fated Everest climb in 1924. Indeed, Wool feels that the ghosts of Mallory and Irvine haunted his trip. During his stay, an expedition was underway to find Irvine ‘s body and the elusive camera whose exposed film might place the two as first at the mountain’s summit.
Wool quickly came to realize how little the Rongbuk Valley had changed since those early expeditions. His photographs epitomize the Valley’s harsh terrain that has been marked by mud brick homes, populated by Buddhist monks and yogis, and inhabited by yaks, sheep, and goats for centuries. Within several years of Wool’s documentation, however, this remote area saw the encroachment of modernity when a road was created to bring the Beijing Olympics torch to Mount Everest .
Born in London in 1961, Tom Wool grew up in the South of France and in England . As an adult, Wool worked briefly as a photographer’s assistant in Italy before embarking on a career as a fashion photographer that lasted nearly two decades. During his travels as a commercial photographer, Wool was always fascinated by the people and environments in which he found himself, inspiring him to turn to independent work. For the past eight years, Wool has traveled extensively under the auspices of a number of NGOs, his photographs now focusing on humanitarian concerns.
The exhibition opens at the Rubin Museum of Art on February 26 and runs through July 26, 2010.
The Rubin Museum of Art (RMA) holds one of the world’s most important collections of art from the countries and cultures of the Himalayas, including Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, and Bhutan. The museum’s exhibitions also include works from the larger Himalayan cultural sphere, such as India, Pakistan, China, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia.
2010 Rubin Museum of Art · 150 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011 · 212.620.5000