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July 19, 2011

Photographs of Sikkim by Alice Kandell Are Now Online

Sikkim is high in the Himalaya Mountains of India, bordered by Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. The setting is remarkable, with steep slopes, thatched cottages, Buddhist temples, cobbled paths and terraced fields. During many visits from 1965 to 1971, Alice S. Kandell photographed vivid scenes from daily life, documenting the culture of the tiny kingdom before it vanished.

Three hundred of these extraordinary photographs, showing both people and landscapes, are now online at the Library of Congress at www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/kskm/about.html. Photographer Kandell has dedicated the rights to the public to encourage worldwide access. Researchers who visit the Library can consult the entire collection of 15,000 color and black-and-white images, which Kandell donated to the Library in 2010.

Sikkim was an independent kingdom in the Himalayas ruled by a hereditary line of kings (Chogyal) from the 17th century until it became a British protectorate, then an Indian protectorate in 1950. Sikkim was formally annexed by India in 1975. In culture and religion, it has been linked closely with Tibet, from which its first king migrated.

In 1963, the last Chogyal, Palden Thondup Namgyal, married Hope Cooke, an American student at Sarah Lawrence College. Cooke then became the Queen of Sikkim and lived with the king and their children during the final years of the kingdom. Due to this fairy-tale romance, Sikkim became well known in America through major magazines and newspapers.

Kandell, Cooke’s college friend, became a frequent visitor to the small, mountainous kingdom and, at the Chogyal’s request, embarked on a project to document the Buddhist way of life in Sikkim.

While traveling extensively through a country not much larger than Delaware, Kandell went high in the mountains to meet farmers and traders and photograph their families and homes. She visited monasteries and attended religious ceremonies with monks and lamas, captivated by the music, masks and dances. She captured formal and informal scenes with the royal family in Gangtok, as well as artisans with their crafts, children in schools and the mountainous landscape.

"I tried to use my camera to communicate the warmth and openness of the people of Sikkim. I wanted to capture the beauty that is everywhere," Kandell said.

Prince Palden Namgyal of Sikkim, who lives in New York, said "Dr. Kandell’s collection of photographs represents a rare and valuable snapshot of an era that many young Sikkimese have very little knowledge of today. The pictures are not only beautiful but represent an important historical record of our family. More importantly, they capture the culture, tradition and daily life of a far simpler and more innocent time. We are very grateful to the Library of Congress for preserving Dr. Kandell’s collection and making it accessible to all."

Inspired by her experiences in Sikkim, Kandell assembled a major collection of Budhhist art and religious objects. She also retained her connections to the Sikkimese people. In 2010, Hope Cooke joined Kandell at the Library of Congress to describe their work in Sikkim. The webcast from this program, "A Tour of the Lost Kingdom: Sikkim," can be viewed online.

The Prints and Photographs Division is responsible for acquiring, preserving, securing, processing and serving the Library's unique and vast collection of visual materials, which includes more than 14 million photographs, historical prints, posters, cartoons, fine-art prints, and architectural and engineering designs.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. The Library seeks to advance the knowledge and creativity of the American people through its collections, programs, and services. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at www.loc.gov and via interactive exhibitions on a personalized website at myLOC.gov.

Sample Photographs from the Kandell Collection

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PR 11-135
07/19/11
ISSN 0731-3527

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