Serendipitous Shots

A Joyful, Unexpected Moment in Bhutan

Serendipitous Shots

My photograph of a group of young novice monks joyously careening down a hill at their monastic school in Thimphu, Bhutan has left an indelible mark on me.

For as long I can recall, I dreamed of visiting Bhutan. In early 2008 I was fortunate enough to finally travel to the enigmatic Himalayan kingdom. Bhutan did not disappoint: It is a spectacular mixture of stunning, rugged countryside, colorful centuries-old architecture and welcoming, friendly people. The natural light is soft and golden, and the vistas are breathtaking. I felt overwhelmed by the beauty I encountered every day in Bhutan.

My friend and creative partner, filmmaker Mike Rogers, and I spent a few hours one afternoon documenting the daily routines of the novice monks at the Dechen Phodrang Monastic School. We captured these young boys chanting, meditating, studying and even shaving their heads. Later that day, as we were packing up to leave, the headmaster advised us to wait a few minutes; we could expect more than 400 hungry young boys to come pouring out of the school when the dinner bell rang. He suggested that we wait along the dirt path between the school and the dining hall, as the boys would come running directly toward us on their way to eat.

But much to our surprise, a small group of children decided to take a far more precarious route to dinner, charging down the steep, grassy slope to our immediate left. I quickly turned, pointed my lens at them and fired off a few quick frames as the youngsters crested the hill and sprinted down, around and past me. These photographs were the result of simply being in the right place at the right time; they practically made themselves.

A group of young novice monks joyously careen down a hill on their way to dinner.

One of the images in this series was published in National Geographic Magazine (December 2008). This picture captures a moment of spontaneity, freedom and joy, inspiring an emotional connection between the viewer and the subjects. I was — and remain today — deeply honoured to have my photograph featured in the pages of this iconic publication, marking my proudest moment and the biggest personal achievement of my photographic career.

Documentary filmmaker, Mike Rogers, reviews his images as young novice monks squeeze in for a closer look.

And here’s a fantastic postscript to this story: One of the very next frames I snapped after this photograph was of Mike, surrounded by the gaggle of young monks who had just sprinted down the hill, as they raptly watched themselves come to life on the screen of his video camera. This picture was later published by The New York Times. Indeed, the photography gods were smiling down upon us that afternoon.

A novice monk rinses the hair off his freshly shaved head outside the dzong (monastery).

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Scott A. Woodward

Scott A. Woodward's unique narrative photographic style captures real emotions and tells a story in a single frame.
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