Every once in a while, even the most world-weary veteran traveler will happen upon a place that stands out among the rest. For professional photographer Brian Doben, this place was Bhutan. Doben's photos accompany Outside Senior Editor Stephanie Pearson's June 2005 Outside feature story "Cosmic Whiplash" about her trip to the Himalayan kingdom this past November.
Bhutan Photo Gallery
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A costumed monk performs a dance in a Ngalhaklang village courtyard.
For New York-based Doben, who has traveled on assignment to all seven continents and both poles, Bhutan ranks as his absolute favorite destination. "I'm completely enamored with Bhutan," he says. "I've traveled all over the world and I've never felt so connected to a place."
The dramatic landscape coupled with the vibrant, refreshingly traditional culture of the tiny kingdom helped make Doben's photographic storytelling feel effortless.
In a country that prides itself on preserving its spectacular natural resources and gauges its prosperity on "gross national happiness," Doben found the residents to be remarkably engaging and cheerful subjects: "The Bhutanese love to be photographed. They're very happy-go-lucky and very much of a pure heart."
Doben singles out one photo in particular as illustrative of this innocent, joyful characteristic. "The shot of the children running around the bend towards the camera (on page 112 of the June issue) was one of those moments when I knew this was a country I had to return to. These children walk for hours to and from school every day, but even on their way home they had such a sense of excitement. It seemed very pure and innocent."
The brilliant colors seen everywhere, from the lush, mountainous landscape to the effervescent shades of the kira and gho, the kimono-like garments traditionally worn by males and females, made Bhutan an inviting feast for his camera lens. The vivid images, combined with the unusually excellent light quality, made the colors really pop.
Though based out of New York, Doben travels extensively for a good part of the year, shooting for clients from Vanity Fair to Butterfield & Robinson. After a few weeks at his home in the New York suburb of Mahopec, where he lives with his wife, Doben is off to Europe for all of June and then on to China in August 2006. However, he hopes to return to Bhutan at the soonest possible opportunity. "I haven't seen everything, but I've never been to a place where I've felt so spiritually at home," says Doben. "I plan on going back very soon like every place in the world, things get tainted. Before you know it, there will be a Starbucks! Hopefully the terrain and the people are going to prevent it from becoming too Westernized too quickly, but sooner or later things change. It's like evolution."
For more on professional photographer Brian Doben, visit his Web site at www.briandoben.com.