The Healing Monk

Recently, I was revisiting some older photos and came across some images that I found interesting for several reasons. First let me explain the images. The photos are of a Thai monk treating a young girl who had an unusual rash. He applied a salve to the affected areas, then using his breath, blew on the areas while praying. The process only took a few minutes, and then the girl returned to her home.

A Healing Monk in Rural Thailand
A Healing Monk in Rural Thailand

What I found odd, at the onset of the procedure, was that a free clinic was literally a stone’s throw from where the monk was performing his healing procedure. The girls parents had opted not to go the the clinic, trusting the monks methods more than modern medical services.

A Monk Praying and Breathing on a Cloth Bandage Before Applying Salve.
A Monk Praying and Breathing on a Cloth Bandage Before Applying Salve.

At the time I had just moved to rural Thailand and found this experience culturally interesting. It was later explained to me that the relatives took the girl to the monk rather than the clinic because they thought the rash was caused by evil spirits, and wanted a monk who was respected in the healing arts to treat the girl.

A Monk Applies Salve to the Girl.
A Monk Applies Salve to the Girl.

The lesson for me was how much of life here is affected by spirituality. I’m sure had the problem been more serious, or persisted, a visit to the clinic would have been in order, but as it turned out the girls rash went away in a few days, and all was back to normal.

A Monk Ties Prayer String Around the Young Girl"s Wrist.
A Monk Places Prayer String Around the Young Girl”s Wrist.

There are also a couple of photographic lessons I can share from this experience. First, never turn down a chance to photograph. I was actually napping when my wife heard that this procedure was going to take place, and woke me. A tiny part of my brain said “oh, this can wait, it’s not that important”, but luckily, years of experience said “GO!“, so I went. Next, when lighting conditions suck – shoot anyway! When I got on location I saw where the healing was taking place. It was a horrible location photographically. I was able to get close and chose a bench across from the monk to work, but the backlighting was atrocious, and the space was cramped, with nowhere to move. I actually felt lucky the monk did not consider my close proximity a distraction, so I just shot. I tried a couple of angles, but I felt the sun’s rays might enhance the photos, rather than distract due to the nature of what was going on. The rule I always follow is content is king, and outweighs overall image quality. Image #2 is a good example. It is not a great image aesthetically … to say the least! But it is an important piece of the story, so it’s a keeper for that reason alone.
Like many things photographically the event did not last very long. So my philosophy is – well, you got what you got, now go home and work with it.

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