Rinchen Ato’s photographs of Tibet are her attempt at decolonising the region

The photographer tells us her family’s incredible story, and why documenting Tibet as it truly is is so important to her.

11 March 2020


“From porn to Tibetan monasteries – quite a jump,” joked Rinchen Ato as she took to the Nicer Tuesdays stage following Ali Kurr. Based in Cambridge, Rinchen is a photographer who has been documenting her father’s homeland of Tibet for over two decades and, off the back of the release of some of these photos in a book titled Kham, Rinchen spoke to us about her family’s history and the area itself.

Rinchen’s father was forced to flee Tibet after the arrival of the People’s Liberation Army of China. Due to her grandfather’s position as a leader in the area of Kham, Rinchen’s family was targeted more than others and of 11 brothers and sisters, only Rinchen’s father and two of his sisters survived. It’s in this context that the importance of family photography and Rinchen’s mission to further document the area becomes so clear.

Kham is an incredibly remote place. In order for Rinchen to visit from the UK, she and her family flew into Beijing, travelling three days by train, four by Jeep, a day by lorry and then ten hours by horseback. It’s an incredible journey that Rinchen did for the first time when she was seven and has continued to do over and over throughout her life. The resulting images are striking, to say the least, and well and truly achieve Rinchen’s mission of counteracting the one-size-fits-all way that the Tibetan community has been shot by Western and Chinese photographers to date. They show what happens when a Tibetan documents Tibet and the images are her small attempt at decolonising the region; showing it as it truly is.

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