Rarely do Westerners get perspectives of Eastern cultures any more revealing than detached images seen through the lenses of tourists’ cameras. Even more rare was the occasion for New Jersey-based photographer Justin Guariglia to experience intimately an ancient Chinese culture that has never been documented by camera and whose existence is unknown to many Chinese.
Guariglia—in the current exhibition at Utah Valley University’s Woodbury Museum, Shaolin: Temple of Zen—reveals a world he was invited into with warrior monks of the 1,500-year-old Shaolin Temple. In 99 photographs and three video instillations, the public is made a part of something very private, even sacred. Guariglia shares his experience with the Buddhist warrior monks who preserve the ancient kung-fu art known as the “vehicle of Zen.” The 35-year-old artist was granted access into the perimeters of this ancient society after slowly building trust with head abbot Shi Yong Xin. Guariglia’s respect for this tradition is maintained in the photographic essay, as he documents with full integrity the ancient kung-fu art form with candor and dynamism.
Photographer Edward Burtynsky says in an essay, “Justin Guariglia has captured one of the last oases of pure, unaffected Chinese culture.
His photographs reveal an extraordinary culture dedicated to the pursuit of discipline and excellence—where mind and body are stretched to the extreme.” Guariglia’s photographs reveal an early Chinese art embodying an ancient Buddhist tradition to today’s world.