Meditations on Happiness

How do you define happiness?

Is it something to be measured, examined and compared?

Is happiness an index to which our lives should be measured?

To photographer Rob McClure, happiness is a 17-day trek through the most unforgiving mountains of Bhutan with his trusty digital camera.

The breathtaking images he captured are centred on the theme of happiness – indeed, one of the palaces he photographed is called the “Palace of Great Happiness.”

Trekking through the Himalayan country, McClure took over 3,000 digital photos, something he notes was, “easy to do, given the incredible scenery and the convenience of a digital camera.”

McClure at the time was new to the digital world, having clung to a 35-mm camera for his photography for years. He spent months travelling throughout Bhutan and India with his partner Shelagh, which allowed time to hone his skill with the camera.

The images are crisp and finely detailed. Prayer flags flutter from pillar Chortens (pillar shrines), with a sky-blue background.

Respect for the cultural environment and religious practices echo in McClure’s photography and he notes that taking photos of the local people can be difficult for him, hence having only one such photo, Laya Dancers, in his collection.

“I do tend toward landscape photos, but I couldn’t resist that one shot. The dancers walked for over two days to reach the festival, and the moment couldn’t go unrecorded,” McClure says.

McClure has an affinity for the serenity of the natural landscape, confessing that he is a ‘creek’ person, and points out his photo of Heather and Creek. He notes the riot of heather and the motion of the water captured by the lens.

It is McClure’s fine eye for detail that imparts a personal touch to the photos. Every rock and bubble of water is defined and the impermanence and shifting world of nature is displayed. Even the majestic Jhomolohari, the “most sacred mountain in Bhutan,” shows a crumbling, eroding vulnerability in McClure’s works.

“I caught a small avalanche coming off one of the mountains, and it wasn’t even evident until I had the photo of it. It is a humbling experience to be in the valley of the mountains and realize that even they are subject to change,” says McClure.

Nestled amongst the mountains are the great temples, a feat of architecture and artistry. Photos are obtained only outside the temples, as inside photography is banned.

The combination and contrast of nature and the man-made structures is stunning. In particular, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery overlooking the Paro River is perched precariously and makes an impressive yet tentative stand against the erosion of time.

“I found the mountains, the clouds and the creeks show us that they are transient and uplifted,” says McClure. If happiness could be photographed, it may resemble the simple joy found in the shifting face of nature.

McClure’s Meditations on Happiness runs until the first week of March at the Yukon Artists @ Work’s newly renovated gallery.

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