Presenter Brings Tibet's Struggle To Light For Davidson Audience
April 12, 2001
Story and photos by Stratton Lawrence '03
Photojournalist Steve Lehman brought his campaign for Tibetan freedom to Davidson College through discussions and a slide presentation on Tuesday, April 2. His visit was sponsored by the campus chapter of "Students for a Free Tibet."
In a refreshingly casual manner, Lehman presented slides and pages from his book The Tibetans: A Struggle to Survive, which was recently named as "Best Book" in the prestigious "Pictures of the Year" photo competition. His photographs have also been featured in publications such as National Geographic and Time.
Lehman first traveled to Tibet in 1987 to photograph a village of cave-dwellers living in a remote region. But just before leaving for the caves from Lhasa, he saw a commotion in the street he assumed to be a festival. He quickly realized it was a protest by Tibetan monks over Chinese oppression.
Chinese policemen armed with automatic weapons fired on Lehman and the crowd. He was uninjured, but saw it as his duty to document the attack and expose it to the western world. In a meeting with journalistically-inclined students prior to his talk, Lehman mentioned that the occasion was the first time he had ever felt like a journalist, and not just a photographer.
Both his formal slide presentation and the question and answer period that followed gave insight into the mind and work of a photographer striving to raise awareness of the Tibetan problem. He presented slides and interviews of a man who lost his finger from frostbite while escaping Tibet, men whose farms and lives were destroyed by the Chinese government's use of pesticides, and starving children living in the street, with guns but no food.
Lehman said he traveled to Tibet as a curious college graduate, but left as an activist and a journalist, wiser and humbled by the knowledge that "everything has been touched." His experiences tell the story of an atrocity that is only slightly recognized in the outside world. Lehman hopes his book will help to provoke action and change.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson recently launched "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.