One might expect Nicholas Vreeland, a good-looking son of U.S. diplomats and grandson of legendary Vogue magazine editor Diana Vreeland to live a luxurious and flamboyant life. And for a while he did, but Vreeland gave all of it up in the early 1980s to become a monk. It all started in 1977, when Vreeland began studying Buddhism with Khyongla Rato Rinpoche, a Tibetan lama sent to the West in the early 1960s by the 14th Dalai Lama to help introduce Tibetan culture and religion. Vreeland met the Dalai Lama while on a 1979 photographic assignment in India, and later accompanied the Dalai Lama on his first trip to North America.
“I am a monk who makes photographs. The monastic aspect needs to be the overarching one. Photography simply plays a part in my life, sometimes big, sometimes small…I am just an amateur photographer, one who engages in it out of love and out of necessity or addiction.”
In 1985 Vreeland became a monk and joined Rato Monastery in the Mungod Tibetan Settlement in Karnataka. During his years as a monk, Vreeland struggles with his relationship with the camera, finding it almost impossible to give up being a photographer, but worrying that his attachment to photography as an artistic pursuit might compromise his dedication to the spiritual path. However, when promised funding for the restoration of the monastery failed because of the 2008 financial crises, Vreeland resorted to his camera to raise the funds to complete the project. In 2012, His Holiness the Dalai Lama appointed Vreeland abbot of Rato Dratsang, which is one of eleven important Tibetan Government monasteries under His Holiness’s authority. The Dalai Lama explained that Vreeland’s special duty is to bridge Tibetan tradition and the Western world. Vreeland spends half of his time in Rato Monastery in India, and the other half in the United States, where he is the Director of Kunkhyab Thardo Ling—The Tibet Center, New York City’s oldest Tibetan Buddhist center.
Monk with a camera, an uplifting documentary by Guido Santi and Tina Mascara chronicling the life and spiritual quest of Nicholas (Nicky) Vreeland, and his journey from being a photographer to becoming a monk and, most recently, to being appointed as the abbot of the monastery he helped to rebuild, is at the core of the story.
Some Photographs from Nicholas:
If you happen to be in any of these cities mentioned below, do catch the screening of Monk With A Camera.
San Francisco,Roxie Theater: December 26th – January 1st
San Rafael, Rafael Film Center: December 26th – January 1st
Missoula, MT, Roxy Theater Missoula: December 26th
Santa Fe, NM, The Screen Theater: January 1st – 15th
Check for more cities and more screenings here.