Nestled between the Himalayas and the Taklamakan Desert, the Tibetan Plateau is sometimes referred to as the “third pole.” The vast region harbors the largest source of fresh water outside the arctic and supplies 20 percent of the global population with the vital resource. Due to rising temperatures, though, these stores are under threat. The plateau is the fastest-warming region on the planet, and as the Himalayan glaciers melt and infrastructure projects crop up across the landscape, the people living in the area are forced to migrate.
Throughout five visits to the plateau in 2021, Kin Coedel created an intimate series of photographs that document the lives of several nomadic communities. Titled Dyal Thak, a Tibetan word that translates to “common thread,” the images depict people with profound ties to the land and animals, particularly the long-haired yak, a long-essential source of food, clothing, and economic production. The rapidly progressing effects of the climate crisis are changing agricultural patterns and thus the natural cycles that have been part of life for centuries.
Coedel spent three months living in Ritoma Village, a small nomadic agricultural community with a rich textile and weaving history, where he established important relationships with the atelier Norlha. Opened in 2007, the studio boasts a robust ecosystem of women-led artisanal work, much of which focuses on traditional systems and sustainability.
Demonstrating a mutual trust between photographer and subject, many of Coedel’s images show caretakers on the grassland with the animals, alongside the women who lead the fiber production. “At first, the photos were more documentary, and as we got to know each other, and they trusted me, the pictures became a collaborative back and forth,” he told WePresent. “Working with people who trust you and will chase an idea with you is so fun—we made this project together.”
The series is also part of Coedel’s broader effort to present a more faithful view of eastern cultures that have largely been defined by western viewpoints. He shares in a note to Colossal:
The truth is, Tibet is a place far from most people’s understanding. Western media only talks about this region when it pops up on political news, or when celebrities express their support, most of the time to associate themselves with certain agendas and appeal. But Tibetans’ everyday lives are so much more than that. In fact, all the narratives the western media present have little to do with their daily realities. Politics is always an undercurrent when it comes to photographing people and culture, but I want to present a vision beyond that, finding all the beauty and magic in small moments, everyday living.
Currently based in Paris, Coedel travels frequently and is planning to visit rural communities across China in the coming months. He was recently named a finalist in the annual Hyères competition, which will exhibit his work in a group show this October. You can find more of his work on his site and Instagram.
Do stories and artists like this matter to you? Become a Colossal Member today and support independent arts publishing for as little as $5 per month. You’ll connect with a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about contemporary art, read articles and newsletters ad-free, sustain our interview series, get discounts and early access to our limited-edition print releases, and much more. Join now!