the black & white of bhutan: pictures from the last shangri-la

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a monastery in the himalayas of bhutan

updated (added photos, updated link to full portfolio) 20 September 2019

photographs and text by mark l chaves

Bhutan has been romanticised as the last Shangri-La. Most often, typical pictures brought back from Bhutan are of breathtaking mountain landscapes, monasteries hanging off sheer cliff walls, jubilant and colourful festival dancers, or solemn monks draped in maroon robes.

black & white

The ‘Black & White of Bhutan’ is Chaves’ metaphor that attempts to free Bhutan’s overlooked imagery from the distractions of tourism and the exaggerations of colour. Instead of showing us the well-trodden tourist path, he offers scenes that create a sense of global connection and community rather than isolation and over embellishment. The black & white imagery symbolises the harmony of yin and yang. Emphasising what-is, over manufactured perceptions of beauty and ugliness.


In general, tours of the country are highly regulated with strict itineraries. Bhutan, a country known for its isolation, officially opened its borders to foreign tourism only in 2010. Television and the Internet were allowed just eleven years before, in 1999.

“I had a rare opportunity to live in Bhutan from June 2014 to January 2015. This allowed me to photograph daily life as a resident of this Himalayan kingdom. I hope to present a more balanced view of Bhutan. A view that draws upon cross-culture similarities of the challenges and rewards of every day life.”
— mark l chaves

  • photography essay and talk
  • ubud centre for creative photography
  • at taksu photo gallery
  • ubud bali
  • 13 february 2016
  • 6:30pm

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I slung code for Fortune 500 companies in a previous life. Now, I write and make some photographs. I’ve moved on to Portfolio on

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