NPR logo

Rare Photos Reveal Tibet 100 Years Ago

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/130328968/130342937" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Rare Photos Reveal Tibet 100 Years Ago

Saw It On The Radio

Rare Photos Reveal Tibet 100 Years Ago

Rare Photos Reveal Tibet 100 Years Ago

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/130328968/130342937" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Contemporary Tibet conjures a mysterious mental image. Situated at the highest elevation on Earth, it is historically hotly contested territory with a large nomadic and religious population. So imagine how much more mysterious it was 100 years ago — when travel was difficult and few foreigners were granted entry.

Now part of Tibet's unseen history is coming into light, with an auction in London on Tuesday of photographs taken more than a century ago, during the 1903 British mission to Tibet. The photographs, taken by British political officer John Claude White, are the first known images to have left the country.

David Park, director of books, maps and manuscripts at Bonhams, discussed the mysterious photographs with Morning Edition host Renee Montagne — like this one of a group of Tibetan nuns:

A portrait of Tibetan women circa 1903 is one of many in the album being auctioned. Courtesy of Bonhams hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of Bonhams

"Their heads were shaved, apparently, and they wore these astonishing wigs on top," Park said. "They seem to be quite happy even though they're being photographed by an invading force."

NPR thanks our sponsors