Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Abby Ripley

October 4, 2009 through November 14, 2009

Abby Ripley’s Biography

Abby Ripley is happy to claim residence in New Milford, CT. She grew up on a cattle ranch in Montana then moved with her parents and siblings to Arizona. She graduated from the University of Arizona and Arizona State University with degrees in music.

In 1968 she joined the Peace Corps and spent time in Niger, West Africa. It was there that she really became serious about photography and found herself at ease totally immersed in a foreign culture. When all the black-and-white film she had taken in Africa was ruined by a commercial laboratory, she decided to study photography and become adept in every aspect. For that she moved to New York City to attend the New York Institute of Photography, hoping to become a fashion photographer. However, the institute was run by men who told her that only men could do fashion photography. Discourage in that ambition, she pursued a more accessible career as a wholesale travel agent.

On trips to South and Central America and Asia she did take numerous photos but always wondered what she should do with them. After a few more career changes, she decided to return to school for graduate work in anthropology. An exciting part of that endeavor was selecting a group of people to live among in order to study some interesting aspect of their society and culture. An article in the National Geographic drew her attention to Ladakh, a remote region in the Himalayas. Ladakh is populated predominantly by people of Tibetan stock practicing Tibetan Buddhism, though there is also a significant Muslim population. It is administered by India (as part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir) but borders Tibet, China, and Pakistan. Because India has fought wars with both Pakistan and China in this area, it was closed to foreigners for a number of years. It had only when recently opened to visitors when Abby made her first trip there.

She did this in 1982, with encouragement from an Indian educator. She traveled through Amritsar, Jammu, and Srinagar by train and bus, in order to acclimatize herself for the high elevation in Ladakh. However, while in Srinagar she contracted dengue fever. She was therefore delirious as she undertook what might have been the greatest adventure of her life. This was the bus trip over the Zoji pass in the westernmost range of the Trans Himalayas in a blinding snowstorm. The bus slipped and slid around hairpin turns, but she was barely aware of it. She was too weak even to get off the bus for lodging en route. Once in Leh, the capital of Ladakh, a local found her a room in a very primitive hotel where she remained in her sleeping bag for nearly two weeks, recovering from her illness.

Although this was not a very propitious beginning, Abby was befriended by individuals who helped her find a Ladakhi home to live in. She met more and more of these wonderful, generous, happy, and humorous people. Eventually she settled with a charming Christian family in a beautiful village not far from Leh, up a mountain valley above the Indus River and directly in view of the highest peaks in the Ladakhi Himalaya.

She was invited to attend many village functions and photographed them. Several villagers agreed to be her informants and her language teacher (Ladakhi is a Tibetan dialect). They soon realized that she really wanted to know everything about their society and particularly their rituals, e.g., births, marriages, funerals as well as seasonal rituals. She spent many days and nights observing and photographing these events and taking copious notes about everything.

She spent nearly two years studying Ladakhi social rituals that bind the villagers to one another to form a community. When she returned home her life here took over, and nothing was done with all the photographs she took. Unfortunately she had used cheap film that lost its integrity. As a result, now that she has begun to exhibit as a photographer, she has had to restore many of the negatives taken in Ladakh. Still, she hopes they will provide viewers with an informed view of the land and people she has come to cherish.

If anyone has questions about the exhibit or about Ladakh, you may call her directly: (860) 355-4265. If there is sufficient interest, she is available to give a lecture on the subject. There are other images of Ladakh on her Website: http://abbyripleyphotoart.com. All photographs are for sale.

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