Diana Instant Back+ in Tibet: More than Polaroids


Traveled to the Himalayas in Tibet with 6 cameras this summer, seeking enlightenment and great lomography. But the pictures I love most are not the ones I took but the ones I gave.

Went to Burning Man festival last year. Besides the costumes, the desert arts, the pyrotechnics and the crazy parties, one thing I love about it was their spirit of giving. It’s just nice to see generosity bouncing around so freely. But I have to admit, it was also a bit contrived to drive all the way into a desert in order to be super nice to some middle-class strangers.

For 2011, I decided do something slightly more authentic. So when my sister Facebooked me and suggested traveling to Tibet together, I jumped on the opportunity.

Despite regional instability, visa issues, and compulsory 24/7 tour guides for foreigners, thousands of tourists pass through the Tibet every year, each clicking away with their expensive cameras.

Credits: ihave2pillows

To us, children and nomads of the highest plain represent golden photo opportunities, the last drops of innocence on earth. Americans pay USD$30,000 to go on photography tours here. But the Tibetans? Globalization has brought Hershey’s Kisses chocolates to the shelves of expensive supermarkets in Lhasa, but on the vast plains of the Tibetan plateau, life at 5000m above sea level depends on yak dung. Most Tibetans are battling Chinese occupation, poverty, harsh elements and global warming. Many of these poor people have never had a camera, let alone owning photos of themselves or their loved ones.

So there I was, after 55 hours on the Qingzang railway plus 3 days on a Jeep, high up in the Himalayas by the glacier, waving my Qing Hua Diana F+ and the Instant Back+ around, giving out Polaroids.

Knowing that some African tribes hate cameras stealing their souls, I initially had some reservations as to whether Tibetan would warm up to the idea. But in no time, kids gathered around me, adults pushing to the front, crowds and lines spontaneously formed. I didn’t even need explain what I was doing.

Like any tourist visiting a third world country, I was swarmed by street (mountain) kids and local vendors. But instead of pushing souvenirs or asking for spare change, they wanted a Polaroid to shake. Perhaps it’s their first portrait? Things got a little hectic at our Himalayas vista point, I had trouble getting back into the Jeep and closing the door without snapping off some dirty little fingers. That was how I got my first bout of high-altitude sickness. That was how I forgot to take my own picture with the Himalayas and had to stop and retake it.

Credits: ihave2pillows

That afternoon, when I saw a father happily tucked away his son’s picture inside his robes and a mother chased me down eagerly put her 1yo in front of me, I knew the Polaroids were more than Polaroids. In a very small way, it touched their hearts. The whole experience has given my Lomography a new meaning.

Thank you Lomography. Thank you Diana Instant Back. Thank you Fuji Instax.

I didn’t get keep any of those little portraits. Some of those kids didn’t even let me see how their photo turned out, worrying I might take it away. This picture below is the only record I have, but I have many LomoWalls scattered halfway up Mount Everest. That warm feeling? Yeah, it will stay with me for a very long time.

Next time you travel, think about taking as well as giving pictures.

Credits: ihave2pillows

Recreate your favourite Diana camera dreamy effects in an instant photo with the Diana Instant Back+! Experience instant photo gratification by simply attaching the Diana Instant Back+ to any Diana+ camera and load it with Fuji Instax Mini film. Get your own Diana Instant Back+ now!

The Diana F+ Qing Hua edition is specially designed by designer-illustrator Dorothy Tang. The camera’s vintage Chinese appeal perfectly matches the Diana F+ trademark soft-focus and dreamy qualities. See it with the rest of the Diana Clones here!

written by ihave2pillows on 2011-09-20 in #lifestyle #polaroid #polaroids #poverty #tibet #diana-instant-back #fuji-instax-mini #children #mountain #china #adventure #travel #revelation #portraits #himalayas


  1. wonderdude
    wonderdude ·

    Instant photos are so fun! I almost never keep the photos I take of other people.
    It's kind of funny that shaking intant film while it develops doesn't help at all. Shaking it really hard can even damage and distort the image. Perhaps this could be a new Lomo technique to try out? :)

  2. ihave2pillows
    ihave2pillows ·

    @wonderdude Very true :) Shaking doesn't help? lol and everyone's doing it? lol Too funny! I have seen Polaroids with wonky corners and marks that look like spider webs. Perhaps those are caused by extreme shaking? Let's test it out :)

  3. wonderdude
  4. ihave2pillows
    ihave2pillows ·

    I see I see. So they did need to shake back in the days but not anymore. Thanks for the link :)

  5. blue-dog
    blue-dog ·

    I went on a four month trip in the mid80's to Guatemala with 60 some double boxes of Polaroid Time Zero instant film to give away. Gave away some of the best portraits I have ever done to the most beautiful, deserving, kind people I have ever met. Thank you for sharing ihave2pillows

  6. ihave2pillows
    ihave2pillows ·

    @blue-dog What a lovely experience :) It'd be amazing if we could trace down those portraits and see how much their owners have grown and evolved since then!

  7. itisanormalname
    itisanormalname ·

    greatgreat great!

  8. v3ml
    v3ml ·

    Great article and great memories!

  9. hervinsyah
    hervinsyah ·

    TRUELY BEAUTIFUL. I also inspired much by Agustinus Wibowo agustinuswibowo.wordpress.com/ self confessed home-boy who had a great backpacking experience to tell. I watch it at one of Indonesian tv channel. He almost being raped by older man at some place at nowhere, he also found great fact about ex USSR region when neighbor area are different country with a lot of rule, etc. Traveling are really our basic need as a human and as a home boy kind of man, I will go to Tibet someday, Amin YRA =)

  10. ihave2pillows
    ihave2pillows ·

    @itisanormalname @v3ml @hervinsyah Thank you both :-) I'm thinking about starting a long-term travel-photography project on KickStarter.com to involve my community for another community. See what happens :-)

  11. af-capture
    af-capture ·

    Great ! Good luck with the project!

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