In Print : Alan Brigish: Picturing new directions
"Breathing in the Buddha: Journeys in Indochina," BrigishEYE, December, 2009, 120 pages, $99.
"The contentment and joy that go along with western ideas of Nirvana seem to exist in some abundance in worlds in which most of us would never choose to live" - Alan Brigish
Alan Brigish is hitting his stride in his new job. The successful business publisher turned photographer/author has self-published three books, "The Brigish Collection, 2006," "Eye Contact: Windows on the Soul of India," (2007) and his just released, "Breathing in the Buddha: Journeys in Indochina."
Mr. Brigish's two prior books showcased his artistic eye and photographic skills as well as an appreciation for his subject matter both on the Island and in Asia, but "Breathing in the Buddha" brings a powerful, more urgent voice to his work.
The West Tisbury resident's website describes the book as being "much more than a photographic journal of Alan Brigish's trip through Southeast Asia." He combines candid and portrait images of Third World people he has taken in recent trips across Indochina and Southeast Asia with a text treatment of Buddhist practice and life that parallels the artwork. The text presentation is easily approachable by the western mind, no doubt aided by Mr. Brigish's experience as a Buddhist practitioner. For example, a five-photo spread picturing Inle Lake in Burma (Myanmar) is captioned "...where villages are set on stilts and time has no meaning."
Mr. Brigish says, "The book was created to enable inhabitants of other countries to be more visible in a new and positive light," and, he explains, to break stereotypes, and to challenege unrealistic expectations.
Mr. Brigish has an agenda with this book: "to demonstrate that through individual action transformation of the world is possible." He wants us to appreciate that while governments and political cycles come and go, on an individual level, much of the world still admires and respects western culture which has the potential to be a more e2ffective role model.
The cyncial among us may want to hum "Kumbaya " at such pronouncements, but Mr. Brigish is serious as a heart attack about this, and he channels his work into helping the people he photographs.
One: He's been in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Bhutan, and Uzbekistan to do this work. None of those places even remotely resembles Cozumel and they are way more dangerous.
Two: As he did with as his 2007 book, "Eye Contact: Windows on the Soul of India," Mr. Brigish channels his work into helping the people he photographs. He has pledged 100 percent of the profits of this book to education projets in the countries he pictures.
Three: He works hard at reducing costs and developing more sales for the book. His marketing efforts include a dizzying array of e-blasts, serialized offers, Facebook and other e-marketing gambits.
It's working well for the third book, Mr. Brigish reports. "After four months of some lectures but basically e-marketing, enough subscribers who were reading the free, serialized online chapters online bought the book to cover our printing costs," he said last week. "We are going to print through blurb.com. We have 120 pages of four-color on premium paper," he said.
Mr. Brigish's last book produced $5,000 in education grants to Indian and South African children. He's hoping to do more with this book. It is working. A trip to the book's Facebook page on Monday revealed a host of comments by Asian people and their friends who declared their approval of "Breathing in the Buddha."
Mr. Brigish is excited by the marketing possibilities: "Blogs, discussion groups, they are all part of it. This book is really ambitious. I was willing to invest in it but I didn't want to lose money. I wanted to make money to donate to charity. I used my trip to Burma last year with photos and parallel narratives which I wrote and Island editor Susan Klein edited."
He says, "I am learning as we go along. I decided to self-publish and to put it online as an e-book serial every two weeks. The chapters aren't the same but are similar to the chapters as they appear in the book. We promoted by email beginning six month ago and got a couple thousand subscribers from my contacts and with a request to pass the email on. Facebook was key. It's a wonderful thing. It's viral, expands very rapidly. Every time we sent out a new Buddha chapter and asked friends to share, I'd see new names and faces popping up all over the place in the United States, then around the world," he said.
Mr. Brigish's efforts as an agent for social change seem to reflect the Budhist precepts addressed in "Breathing in the Buddha." Examples:
"We are addicted to the safety and comfort we perceive when we try to make permanent that which is impermanent."
"Learning patience is both necessary and possible. To become more patient is to become more present; more aware."
"Empathy and generosity are the core elements of the compassion necessary to make this world work."
"Breathing in the Buddha: Journeys in Indochina," is available at Island bookstores or online at brigish.com/buddha2009. For questions contact 508-696-3109.
Jack Shea is a regular contributor to The Times.