Justin Guariglia has photographed the monks at Shaolin Temple, in the Chinese province of Henan, in a process that has unfolded during his extended residency in Asia, paralleling his own exploration of Eastern tradition and pushing beyond single modes of photography as investigation. As the only foreigner to have this degree of access to the monks of the Temple, the legendary birthplace of Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism, Justin has arguably found the authentic face of Shaolin. Comprising an extremely insular society, Justin's subjects are not the students or entertainers who commonly tour the West in performances, but real monks who practice kung fu and Buddhist teachings daily, as vehicles to attain Zen enlightenment. The resulting two-part work is characterized by its fugitive vision: ethereal portraits and sequences of kinetic meditation. Both series share in, and seek to convey, the inner peace that these monks acquire through rigorous self-cultivation. This installation permits the viewer to examine and experience the energy and spirit of those who practice these centuries-old movements. This ongoing work explores vehicles, triggers, and states of Zen enlightenment, in an attempt to capture the sense of balance, and oneness the monks strive for.
Alan E. Rapp
Senior Editor for Art, Design and Photography Books
Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA
Excerpt from curatorial statement,
A state of Zen cannot be accurately put into words, but we could attempt to describe it as a state of enhanced consciousness, where one achieves a state of universal clarity or oneness of body, mind and spirit. Non-goal-oriented in nature, one does not actually perform Zen, but rather practices a vehicle to attain Zen, as in the case of Shaolin Monks practicing kung fu they attempt to achieve Zen enlightenment through the practice of martial arts. While it is believed that some natural settings can actually “trigger” a state of Zen, in even the uncultivated, enlightenment for many is fleeting or more often, simply out of reach.
The underlying context of this ongoing work, which explores vehicles, triggers, and states of Zen enlightenment, attempts to instill a greater sense of balance, inner peace, and oneness within ourselves and the world around us, through contact with these otherwise elusive experiences. For me, my work reflects our need to bring more yang into our lives in order to counterbalance the exceptionally strong yin we face in society today.
Born in 1974 in Maplewood, New Jersey, Justin Guariglia now resides in New York, after spending nine years (1995–2005) living in Venice, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and most recently Tokyo. Guariglia moved to Asia at the age of twenty-one to learn Mandarin Chinese in Beijing, where he eventually took up photography to get out of Chinese character memorization classes.
Returning to the U.S. briefly, Justin landed an internship at Magnum Photos in New York, where he was first exposed to the documentary world. Urged by one of the Magnum photographers to “get back out photographing,” he went back to Asia in 1998, settled in Hong Kong, and began working on freelance commissions for National Geographic, Time, and Newsweek to help pay for his Personal Journeys projects, in which he photographed those landscapes and cityscapes around Asia that moved him. This body of work attempts to capture the spirit and emotion of a place through careful observation of colors and light, and to touch the viewer the same way that the place originally touched the photographer: on a “deep, instinctive, visceral level,” according to Guariglia. Within a year, Guariglia’s work got him nominated for the International Center of Photography’s “Young Photographer of the Year” Infinity Award; he was given an Eddie Adams “Newsweek” award and was named by Photo District News as one of the top “30 Young Photographers Under 30,” comparing his style to that of Garry Winogrand.
The Minnesota Center for Photography, Choreographic: Images of Movement, June 17 – August 13, 2006, Minneapolis, MN, http://mncp.org/index.cfm?id=2