When I grow up, I want to be as cool as Tobi Wilkinson.
I was immediately mesmerized by Tobi’s photography when introduced to her work earlier this year by my friend and mentor Karen Thurman. So I was delighted when Karen managed to score me an invitation to the opening of Tobi’s current exhibit Mindful Practice – The Gyuto Monks Summer Retreat at the Bondi Pavilion on April 13.
What I found on my first visit to the exhibit was far more than just photography; it was a happening with something for everyone. Tobi has managed to bring her study to us. Not only does Tobi share moments that she has captured on film; she has designed an event that allows patrons to become part of the moment.
In addition to Tobi’s photography, event activities include daily chanting, meditation, and crafts for kids, cleansing ceremonies, talks, the creation of a sand mandala, and best of all, the opportunity to hang out with some really approachable monks.
The monks may look serious when they are deeply engaged in their ancient practices, which they maintain when visiting Australia. But they are full of welcome and smiles when interacting with exhibit patrons. Watching the monks connect with children is especially heart warming.
And Tobi is also all smiles as well whether she is introducing us to the monks and their practices or sharing the detailed stories behind each photograph. With this exhibit, she has succeeded in capturing ‘the essence of joy and the purity and authenticity of the Gyuto Monk’s spiritual practice’.
Admission to the show is free. Tobi’s photography and items commemorating the show are for sale (wish I had walls). 100% of all proceeds from exhibition sales are donated to Gyuto Monastery.
Tobi was kind enough to meet up for a coffee on my second visit to Mindful Practice and share her story with me. Here is what I learned.
Always attracted to the art of photography, Tobi received her first camera from her husband Rob on her 31st birthday. She studied black and white film photography with Gordon Undy as her mentor at point light in Surry Hills . She didn’t start using a digital camera until 2009 when low lighting wouldn’t have manifested the images she was trying to capture on film. She shoots film with a Leica M7, digital color with a Nikon D4 and digital black and white with a Leica Monochrome. She still prefers film over digital and uses with it whenever she can.
Tobi met the monks in 2008 during a talk held by the Dali Lama as part of a book launch and they just clicked. She has since photographed them in her studio, around Australia, and at their monastery in Sidhbara, near Dharamsala,India. Tobi has exhibited work from this study at Bondi Pavilion (2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016) and at the Colour Factory in Melbourne (2015). And she was the official photographer on the Australian tour of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2009. Her husband, Rob Keldoulis, joined the Board of the Dalai Lama in Australia in 2008, becoming Chairman in 2010; a post from which he recently retired.
Tobi works in both black and white and color. The choice is really driven by ‘what works’ in the photographs and what she is trying to communicate through the images. The 2015 Buddha Robes Exhibition in Melbourne was filled with red. She had originally intended for the current exhibition to be a combination of both, but as she started editing the work, she realized that the story was stronger if told only in black and white.
In addition to her study of the Gyuto Monks, Tobi completed a course in Sydney with Ralph Gibson in 2012 that led to a fantastic study on the female nude and an exhibition entitled Source. She finds herself most attracted to hands, shapes and shadows.
But nothing is permanent as the Gyuto Monks remind us through the creation and dissolution of sand mandalas, and this exhibit is no exception. It closes on 24 April, ending with a Dissolution Ceremony at 4:00 PM.
Submitted for the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: Admiration