Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bringing Photojournalism to Bhutan

You'll enjoy this missive from our former student Mary Calvert, an award-winning photojournalist based in Washington, D.C. , describing her recent teaching adventure in Bhutan. Proud to see that she used her old professor's textbook! (Click photo to enlarge.)

"Greetings from the Kingdom of Bhutan," the email read. It came from out of the blue and continued, "I'm very much impressed with your work and congratulations for all the awards you have won so far. I was wondering if you would be kind enough to design and teach photojournalism for a period of week or two in Bhutan for journalists in Bhutan. The details can be discussed if you are interested.
Thank you and hope to hear from you soon.
Dawa Penjor

I had no idea who Dawa Penjor was or even whether Dawa was a man or woman. But I was intrigued and quickly wrote back for more information. I did not even know exactly where Bhutan was. A little bit of mining the almighty Interwebs revealed that Bhutan is a tiny country between India and Tibet in the thick of the Himalayan Mountains. There are only 683,407 people in the whole country and 72% of the land is covered in forest. Bhutan is one of the nine constitutional monarchies in the world where the king is the sole final authority.

In Bhutan, there is no gross domestic product, there is however a "Gross National Happiness" index based on the Buddhist values of the country and there are more monks supported by the Bhutanese government than the total of army troops, police and palace guards.

After a dozen or so emails I found myself on a plane to the Kingdom of Bhutan, "Land of the Thunder Dragon". My students included 15 local Bhutanese photographers and one Englishman at the Department of Information and Media in Thimphu, the capitol and Bhutan's largest city. I brought a case of Ken Kobre's book, "Photojournalism, the Professional's Approach" to share with the class.

My class was filled with bright students who soaked up every bit of advice and the lessons I had to share on photojournalism. One day we drove two hours to the town of Punakha, former capitol of Bhutan, to visit the Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong, that was built in 1637 and means "The Palace of Great Bliss". A "Dzong" is a large building that is a combination fort and monastery that house both monk's quarters and government offices. Our assignment for the day was to illustrate the theme "Devotion". All of us just wandered around and made pictures.

Bhutan is an amazing country and I loved my visit. Every single person that I met showed me kindness and I made many friends. I look forward to my next visit to the "Land of the Thunder Dragon".

Mary's blog:

Mary's website:

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