British contemporary artist Chris Levine recently photographed the Dalai Lama for his 80th birthday, His Holiness’ only official artist commission, in aid of earthquake victims in Nepal. The process used 3D light technology, akin to Levine’s famed portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II ‘Lightness of Being’ in 2012. He talks to The Goodwill Project about shooting with the Dalai Lama.
Could you tell us more about the portrait Dalai Lama at 80? How did the idea come about?
I was approached last year by Tibet House in London with a view to shooting a portrait to commemorate His Holiness’ 80th birthday. However, while personal portraits are not appropriate to his beliefs, because the image will be used to raise funds for charity (through www.himalayaprayer.com), he agreed on compassionate grounds.
Did the Dalai Lama pose for you or was it a spontaneous image?
Yes, he posed as requested. Due to the fact that he is so busy, I had the image worked out and the lighting precisely configured before he arrived at the location. We had about 15 minutes with His Holiness prior to him leaving for the US.
What was your interaction with him like?
It was so special and full of warmth and good feelings. He made my team, including my son who was with me, and I feel so special. I showed him some previous work to give him an idea of the 3D process and he was most complimentary. As I directed the shoot, he did all I asked of him. The final image is exactly as it had been conceived.
How was it being in his presence?
Truly, this man is so gentle and full of love. He held on to my hand, wouldn’t let go and looked deep into my eyes—my soul—and made a deep connection. He made us laugh and feel beyond ease and afterwards we were simply buzzing for hours. I’ve never experienced an interaction with another human so full of compassion and well-being. We all have the capacity to be like him and what a beautiful planet it would be if we were; heaven, no less.
Was it different shooting with the Dalai Lama and with your other subjects?
I feel so privileged to be asked and to realise this personal ambition. That the work has a charitable dimension made it beyond special and incomparable to anything else I’ve done. The message of compassion and meditation is so very important right now.
What do you enjoy about portraits?
The soulful connection with the subject. To go beyond the image and project the real loving essence of the being.
Tell us a little about your work, using 3D light technology. What is a lenticular print?
I work with light and draw people to stillness. The technology is a means to an end and to manipulate the light and image into a form that resonates beauty in the perceiver. The lenticular process is essentially photographic, but using an optical lens in front of the print, the illusion of 3D is created. It often gets referred to as a hologram because it’s so dimensional in depth.
For more, visit www.chrislevine.com
(Himalaya Prayer is a platform dedicated to raising funds for rural communities in the Himalayas. Money raised will be donated directly to established charities working in Nepal and the Himalayan region. More information can be found at www.himalayaprayer.org.)