Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
September 24, 2009

The Dalai Lama on the Balcony of the Lorraine Motel

Dalai Lama Lorraine Motel.jpg

If it’s off-topic headline-wise, I was really struck by this image on the wire yesterday. The caption reads:

The Dalai Lama, left, stands on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009, in Memphis, Tenn., and looks up at the location pointed out by Rev. Benjamin Hooks, right, where the bullet was fired that killed Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. The Dalai Lama is in Memphis to accept the 2009 International Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum.

Beyond the mashing of two very powerful visual icons (that infamous balcony in combination with the distinct presence of the robed religious and cultural figure) and the strong color play (the robe “dialoguing” with the carnations, and the more colorful left half of the photo contrasting with the more black-and-white right half), there is also a striking collision here between history and the emotional reaction to it.

Most specifically, look at the Dalai Lama’s right hand. What I’m curious about is how much he’s using his body in order to sense what did in Reverend King in that moment in ‘68, and how much, in empathy with Reverend Hooks, he feels compelled to point too.

Update: Several of you wrote asking that I post the photo below as a basis for comparison. As discussed in the thread, the photo with the Dalai Lama is also charged by the pointing in Joseph Louw’s iconic and horrific image.

king assassination.jpg

(image 1:Mark Humphrey/AP. image 2: Joseph Louw/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images. April 4, 1968)

  • Tena

    That large spray of red carnations is very disturbing for me – it looks like a large blood splatter, given the situation.
    Otherwise, yes, I agree, the Dalai Lama is in the experience, I imagine.

  • http://leftistmoon.wordpress.com Wordsmith

    That cane is a bit disconcerting as well.

  • nordmend

    that’s a very powerful picture.
    the place, the players, the framing.
    agreed, the carnations, the cane.
    the architecture rushing frame right, counterpointed with the eyes and fingers thrusting frame left.
    “clear vision” for the dalai lama and (his bodyguard?), obscured eyes and faces on the 3 frame right gentlemen,
    i’m most drawn to bodyguard’s expression by far, he’s doing different math than the others.
    and he has _the best tie ever! it’s like the “dazzle” designs on u.s. ships in ww2.
    great picture.

  • paulo

    very reminiscent of the photo taken just after the assassination.
    http://www.harlanerskine.com/blog/uploaded_images/JL_MLKassassination-732240.jpg

  • Kevin

    Not a bodyguard – scholar and long time English translator for HH the Dalai Lama.
    http://www.tibetanclassics.org/Jinpa_Translation.html

  • http://profile.typepad.com/bagnews Michael Shaw (The BAG)

    Paulo,
    Great point — highlighting the emotional and psychological power of these iconic images. I didn’t exactly recall or take the time to look up the image from ‘68 before writing the post, but looking at it now, I can see how much the pointing, and the resonance of it, was there the whole time in the back of my head.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/bagnews Michael Shaw (The BAG)

    Nordmend and Kevin,
    It’s always fascinating to go back, after you think you’ve really looked at a photo, and discover other details that then seem obvious. The contrast between the DL’s expression and the translator’s is very curious.

  • Aurora

    My first take also.

  • Progressive Mom

    My first thought also — and the similarity shook me to the core.

  • paulo

    Now that I have thought about this a bit what strikes me about the resonance between the two photos is this. This is a tangle for me but I’ll forge ahead. Please excuse.
    Obviously in the “original” Dr King is lying dead or nearly so. He is effectively out of the picture literally and the pointing is a post-action. They are pointing about an action in the past already.
    In the Dalai Lama picture we perhaps take into account a Bhuddist belief of life’s and time’s illusion.
    The Dalai Lama is bound in our imagination and so it seems philosophically with Dr King. If it was any other person, President Obama for instance, this photo wouldn’t have the same resonance.
    The Dalai Lama is standing here and he is obviously alive in the image when the others (some of the same people(?)) are making actions that they made after Dr King was shot.
    The illusion of time evaporates. In one shot we have a few seconds from 40 years ago collapse into a present single moment. Dr King is alive and dead and his associates are pointing in the same helpless way – pointing “out there”.
    That it is the Dalai Lama that causes this (and is likely the only one that could cause it) to happen just by showing up makes my head kinda spin.

  • yg

    why didn’t clinton or the UN do more about tibet? does profit trump everything?

  • Jimbobdyln

    COULD HE HAVE STAYED AT ANY HOTEL IN TOWN ? I THINK NOT. THE CITY CAN NOT AVOID IT’S RACIST PAST. NOW WE HAVE THIS PLACE AS A REMINDER OF WHAT WAS. THE PEOPLE OF THE SOUTH CAN LIVE IN SHAME FOR WHAT THEY WERE, MANY ARE STILL ALIVE. THEY KNOW WHO THEY ARE, AND THEY CAN NEVER ESCAPE THEIR JUDGEMENT DAY.

Refresh Archives

Random Notes