Yak Butter Tea for Eight Hundred

The monks in this photograph were preparing tea to serve 800 at Shechen Monastery. It is in these kitchens, where monks are brewing yak butter tea, where I have made some of my favorite photographs. They work at these huge cauldrons, and usually it’s very early in the morning when they start the fires. Then there’s all this steam and smoke. And as the smoke hides and reveals the subject, I am shooting away. You’ve got this very medieval looking photograph: flame and smoke, and big ladles and huge cauldrons sitting there as the monks are stirring the tea.

Now I shoot with a digital camera and many of these photographs I couldn't have made before because invariably in these monasteries, there is absolutely no light.  Maybe there are a couple of low voltage light bulbs around, like electric bulbs or maybe a candle, or maybe light coming in from a single window, so, in the days of film, fifteen years ago when I was using film exclusively, a lot of pictures I just couldn’t take. In the last five years, with all the great developments in digital photography, I've got these cameras with high ISOs (high light sensitivity) that allow me to shoot in places that you could not photograph before.

Interview with Michael Yamashita

Tibetan Buddhism