by Drew Martin
I watched two documentaries today, back to back, while doing some house chores. The first was called A Monk With a Camera, which was about a Buddhist monk who is also a photographer, and actually raised $400,000 through a photography show in order to complete construction on a monastery in India, where he is now the abbot. The second movie was Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel about this iconic fashion columnist and editor for Harper's Bazaar and Vogue.
When Diana was fired from Vogue at the age of 70 she went on to be a consultant at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and ushered in the era of blockbuster fashion exhibits at museums. The two films would seem to be world's apart only that the monk, the first Westerner to be appointed as an abbot of a Tibetan monastery, is Nicky Vreeland, Diana's grandson.
Nicky was a dandy with obsessive grooming and part of an unreal and privileged world, which he gave up for a modest life of prayer and ritual. It is easy to poke fun at such types (including celebrities such as Richard Gere who, unfortunately, squeezes himself into a lot of the scenes) for being in the advantaged position to do so, but then again, Siddhartha too renounced his life as a prince and led an ascetic existence.
Nicky had left photography behind with his Western life but it found its way back to him. The most interesting part of his discussion about his philosophical struggles with photography is that while he says it can be a horrible addiction of the ego, especially if it is used to seek fame, it also can transcend this if used as a virtuous tool to show people something from which they can benefit and learn.
When I started the documentary about Diana, it was only to pass a few minutes, after which I thought I would find it horribly shallow and turn it off, but it was fascinating and shows how she not only helped redefine fashion but how she brought out people's personalities through modeling, especially by accentuating their flaws. Through her eye the bikini and blue jeans made their way into fashion magazines, and she was the sartorial inspiration and support behind Jackie Kennedy's style.