The work of the American photographer, ethnographer, writer and artist Thomas Laird has been informed by his explorations of the art, culture, and history of the Himalayan Mountains and the Tibetan Plateau starting in 1972. Based in Nepal for three decades his reporting and photography have been published globally by Time, Geo, Newsweek, Le Figaro, Asahi Shimbun, The New York Times, The National Enquirer, Co-Evolution Quarterly, National Geographic, Marie Claire and many others. He is the author of two non-fiction books, photographer of two books of photography and several museums shows have been mounted regarding his recent work with Tibetan murals.
Between 1972 and 1975 Laird traveled overland five times between Europe and Nepal: he made his first journey to Asia when he was 18 and entered India for the first time, alone, on his 19 th birthday. During the 1970’s and 1980’s Laird spent five years among the Sherpa of Eastern Nepal and developed rough
fluency in Nepali. Working in medium format he amassed a collection of ethnographic, and landscape photography of the Sherpa homeland. He also collected oral history, recordings of Sherpa ethnographic music, and translations of Sherpa Folk songs. His NAGRA IV field recordings in a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Kathmandu were released as one of the first LP’s of Tibetan ritual music: A Tibetan Buddhist Rite from Nepal – Padmasambada Chopa, by Lyrichord Discs, 1975. He was among the first 100 to enter Tibet when it opened to foreign travelers in 1986. He was the Asiaweek Correspondent from 1991 to 2000. During that time he developed extensive contacts among many levels of Nepali society from average rice farmers and yak herders, to members of Nepal’s doomed Royal Family and every stripe of Nepali Politician.
Laird’s involvement with Nepali politics began when he was one of the few foreign photographers to cover the “Janta Andolan” (People Power) uprising of 1991, an event that forced Nepal’s ruling house of Gorkha to surrender its claim to absolute monarchy and accept a new role as a constitutional monarchy. During that uprising Laird shot news photography of a group, estimated at 10,000 who, after a failed march on the Narayanhiti Royal Palace, were fired upon, leading to the death of an estimated 100 protestors. Laird’s eyewitness images of that massacre circulated widely in the world press, from Germany’s Stern to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun and that work brought him to the attention of the politicians who rose to power in its wake. In the following years Laird reported and photographed more than 30 stories for Asiaweek, a Time/Warner publication based in Hong Kong focused on Asian news, that brought a new level of international coverage to Nepali current events. In recognition of his journalism, Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai granted Laird the first one year trekking permit ever released for the until-then- closed Kingdom of Mustang. During Laird’s one year in Mustang the acclaimed Peter Matthissen author of The Snow Leopard, joined Laird on a six week journey. A book of Laird’s photography entitled East of Lo Monthang featuring Matthiessen’s prose was released in 1994 and has remained in print ever since.
During Laird’s year in Mustang he met children who had had their hands blown off by unexploded munitions, left in Mustang in the wake of the CIA’s covert support for Tibetan guerrillas who had based themselves there in the 1960’s.Their suffering and the stories he heard about the tragedy of Tibetans in Mustang, drove Laird to mount an investigation. During six weeks of research in NARA, just outsideWashington DC, Laird discovered that CIA was continuing to conceal its role in Mustang by classifiying the bulk of documents that would allow the public to study that chapter of American and Tibetan history. However, at the same time Laird’s broad study of Tibetan and Himalayan affairs prepared him to understand a mysterious crumb trail of documents that he discovered at NARA. Ultimately that research revealed that the CIA’s first intelligence officer ever killed, had died on the Tibetan border in 1950. It took Laird another eight years to track down the ill fated companions of Douglas S Mackiernan.