Midtown Raleigh News

Jon Kolkin’s photos feature life in Buddhist temples

“Open Hands...Open Heart #1” by Jon Kolkin, who is the featured artist at the Mahler Gallery for February First Friday.
“Open Hands...Open Heart #1” by Jon Kolkin, who is the featured artist at the Mahler Gallery for February First Friday. PHOTO BY SARAH BARR - sbarr@newsobserver.com

When photographer Jon Kolkin walked through the entrance of the Taiping Temple in the middle of bustling Wenzhou, China, he knew immediately he had found his next project.

Kolkin was struck by the sense of calm and purpose in the temple, where more than 100 female Buddhist monks and nuns live. He calls it an “inner harmony,” and in his new show at the Mahler Fine Art Gallery, he hopes to convey that feeling to viewers.

Kolin’s show, “Inner Harmony…Learning from the Buddhist Spirit,” features black and white palladium prints of images from temples in China, Bhutan and Los Angeles taken over several years. The photographs are small, in order to draw the viewer close and then into the emotional lives of the temple’s monks and nuns.

“It’s intended to be an experience for people – that they get some sense of what it means to have inner harmony, well-being and equilibrium,” he said.

Kolkin, 62, didn’t start clicking as soon as he entered the Taiping Temple though. First, he met with the master of the temple and shared a bit about himself and his ideas with her, his camera tucked away in its bag.

“We were connecting on a very different level, just trying to get to know one another,” he said.

As she prepared tea for them, he asked if he could take a photograph. She said yes, and Kolkin had his first image for the series.

He then spent time getting to know other members of the temple, building relationships before he took photos during several visits.

There were plenty of challenges: there was a language barrier; most of the monks and nun were reserved and reluctant to have any photos taken of them, especially of their faces; and the light was dim.

Those difficulties were worth it though to capture such a rare view, he said.

For the series, Kolkin also incorporated images from a previous trip to Bhutan and subsequent trips to temples in China, Bhutan and Los Angeles.

Kolkin, who is a physician, traveled to Asia through Health Volunteers Overseas. He’s a co-founder of the Raleigh Hand Center but today works full-time as a photographer except for his volunteer trips abroad. He also works as a health coach.

Kolkin said that in his photographic series, he’s usually seeking to bring up questions of how to live life in a full and balanced way.

It’s a way of life that’s always been important to him as he balanced medicine and photography and his professional and personal life.

“They’re all part of what makes me whole,” he said.

The Mahler is downtown at 228 Fayetteville Street. In addition to First Friday, an artist’s talk is scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday during a reception from 3 p.m to 5 p.m. at the gallery. Photographs from Kolkin’s “Seeking Wisdom” series also are on display at the Fo Guag Shan Temple at 2529 Prince Dr. Both shows run through March 15.