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©Kit Kittle 2021

I first traveled to the Buddhist Kingdom of Sikkim, a country that borders Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal and Bengal, when I was sixteen. This experience greatly changed the way I would forever see the world. The influence of meditation and the clearness of thought provided by its practice led me to a deeper appreciation for photography. In my serene mental state I understood the true nature of a photograph— everything is cleared away about a situation except the exact way it appears in that moment.

My interest in Buddhism led me to study Sanskrit and philosophy at Banaras Hindu University in India. I spent a year living along the Ganges River and witnessed extremes of beauty and horror. Banaras is a point of pilgrimage for devout Hindus whose bodies are burned in funeral pyres along the river. Banaras also adjoins Sarnath, where Gautama Buddha walked to give his first lesson after his enlightenment twenty-five hundred years ago.

As a New York City kid, thanks to a best friend who set up a darkroom in his bathroom, I had been shooting photos, processing film, and making prints since fourth grade. While in India, I had the Canon FTb single-lens reflex 35mm camera and an extremely sharp 50mm fl.2 lens. It seemed that the only way to capture the otherness of the Benares was to photograph it. I only had twenty-five rolls of Kodachrome 25 film to last for eight months, so each frame had to count.

From my experience in India I knew I wanted to be a photographer. I took my photos from the trip, exchanged them for air fare credit with Air India (as it’s all they could afford at the time.) I continued to shoot pictures. I went back to India— this time to the south and up into the Garwal Himalayas. Time magazine and the Philadelphia Museum of Art bought the right to publish photos from the trip and photography assignments slowly started to appear and my career as a professional photographer began to take hold.

Years later, my wife brought home this Buddha that she had found in a home shop. It is made of porcelain and weighs twenty-five pounds. I can carry it around along with a small camera bag. I photographed this Buddha at my favorite places all over the place. In 2014, I published a book composed of these photographs called Enlightenment published by Schiffer Publishing.

These photographs create a wonderful space for a few thoughts about what Buddha means to our world. The Buddha connotes the importance of mindfulness and compassion in our daily lives. The story of his enlightenment is encouragement for all of us who struggle with our human predicament. I look at these photos as not solely “Buddhist” at all. The Buddha can be seen less as a religious figure and more as a symbol of quiet and steadfast effort. Many people all over the world see the Buddha this secular way, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.

This Buddha is a great photography subject because its porcelain skin reflects the light around it. Its patina changes as the daylight goes by. In the outdoors, the Buddha seems to reflect the moods of nature. In other places, this Buddha can reflect the irony of a situation, like the peacefulness that can be found in commotion, or the loneliness that can be found in crowds.

May it also reflect some light for your path.