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The Dalai Lama

I love this story. … In L.A. Times photographer Genaro Molina’s words: There are many hurdles to every portrait assignment. Photographing the Dalai Lama had more than its share.

After talking my way into the Dalai Lama’s Beverly Hills hotel suite, I had a member of his security team help me set up a black backdrop near a bank of windows that would provide a natural Rembrandt-like light. Then I was escorted into the hallway to wait for the Dalai Lama’s arrival.

Once the spiritual leader arrived, all media were brought into his room. The L.A. Times was offered the first interview and portrait session, lasting a total of 10 minutes. The Dalai Lama sat in a cluttered part of the room, the worst possible place for a portrait. Halfway through the interview, someone whispered, “You can’t do the other picture, there’s no time.” But toward the end of the interview, someone else whispered, “Ask him.”

When photographing the Dalai Lama, you have to remain calm, centered and want for nothing. He’s very sensitive to this. I leaned forward and asked politely, with praying hands, if he would let me take his portrait in the other room. He smiled, stood up, took the reporter’s hand in a fatherly way and walked toward my setup.

“I think Genaro would like to take your photo alone,” the reporter said respectfully. I had made about eight frames when the Dalai Lama spoke. “The light is so beautiful on the balcony. Let’s go outside.” I could feel the tension from his press personnel for going into extra minutes, but how do you say no to the Dalai Lama? He walked out onto the balcony and stopped a few inches short of the late-afternoon sunshine.

I asked him if he would lean toward the light. Being an “enlightened” individual, this was almost second nature. He obliged with grace and humor.

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