Monk with a Camera

How many of us would trade a life of luxury for the simple existence of a Buddhist monk?
Lara Thomas
Published on May 26, 2014


Son of a diplomat and grandson of Vogue Editor Diane Vreeland, Nicholas Vreeland was born into a life of privilege, high class education and style. He was taught to always have a handkerchief in his pocket and to duly polish his shoes. For the young Nicky, becoming a photographer seemed a natural choice, given his upbringing - surrounded by the who's who of fashion photography, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and Cecil Beaton.

In the words of his stepbrother, Ptolemy Thompkins, "If somebody would write a screenplay about Diana Vreeland’s grandson becoming a Buddhist who said no to all artifice, all fluffy surface, I think somebody who read it would say, ‘It’s too obvious.’ Yet, that’s what happened."

Working with such creative genius is every young artist's dream, but for Nicky getting an apprenticeship with Irving Penn was simply a matter of asking his grandmother for help. He was young, successful, handsome and popular with the ladies. It's a lifestyle that would turn many green with envy, but for Nicky there was something missing.

The theft of his camera equipment prompted Nicky to make a commitment to his studies in Buddism and set him on his journey to becoming a monk. During this time Nicky tried to put his photography aside, but it ends up playing a more important role in his new life than he ever could have imagined.

Monk with a Camera chronicles Nicholas Vreeland's less than humble beginnings, but focuses more on his spiritual journey to the heart of Buddhism and his work with the Rato monastery. It's a touching story of a combining of passions and spiritual fulfillment in a world driven by commodities and consumption. From a cultural perspective, Vreeland acts as a pivotal connection between east and west, managing to create a beautiful union between the two.

Though some might see the act of making a film about your life an egotistic pursuit, Monk with a Camera comes across as poetic and sincere. It's an inspirational, easy watch that gently meanders on its enlightening path and encounters many sumptuous images along the way. It's a great reminder that there's more to life than money and if you're into photography of Buddhism you're bound to enjoy this heart-warming film.

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