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Vanishing Cultures

Alumnus works to safeguard indigenous communities through photography

A group of senior monks gather for a ceremony on a field outside of Lo Manthang, Nepal. Taylor Weidman

For Taylor Weidman (Col '05), photography is a way of getting involved and giving back, the roots of which were fostered at UVA. "I got very involved with the volunteering culture there and I loved that," says the former economics major. It was during a series of photography classes he took at the Curry School that he discovered his love of taking pictures. A trip to China, during which he "just kept shooting," confirmed his new career path.

Since then, his photographs have appeared in the Atlantic, the Boston Globe and the Christian Science Monitor, among others. Weidman received the New Talent Award in the annual Travel Photographer of the Year competition and his work has also been recognized by the annual AnthropoGraphia Human Rights through Visual Storytelling Award competition and traveling exhibit.

An indigenous leader in Brazil’s Xingu region has his body painted in traditional styles. Taylor Weidman
"It started when we were in Tibet, working with indigenous groups to document their lifestyle and how things are changing, to raise awareness," he says, speaking about the initiative that represents the bulk of his work—the Vanishing Cultures Project. The VCP seeks to show how overlooked groups are grappling with the infringement of modern life. "People wonder how their culture is going to be changed, what is going to be lost. We work with them to help with whatever aspects of their culture they'd like to protect." In 2012, his first book, Mustang: Lives and Landscapes of the Lost Tibetan Kingdom, with writer Nina Wegner came out, with a foreword by the Dalai Lama.

Weidman's photography has taken him to track nomads in Mongolia, homelessness in Romania, and injustice in the Philippines. Next up is a trip to the Amazon, where he's going to cover indigenous communities being displaced by a hydroelectric dam, which will divert up to 80 percent of the Xingu River's water. "We're going to document these people as they're being pushed out and support them," he says, "so that their lives will be taken into the equation."

Intrepid as he is, the project does have its obstacles. "I'm not a big jungle guy," he says.

Scroll down to see a few more of Weidman's photographs.

In Mongolia, a herder rides out to collect his animals during a snowstorm in the early spring. Taylor Weidman

A herder leads his horse home from a watering hole in a Gobi Desert oasis. Taylor Weidman

The village of Tangge stands on the edge of a Kali Gandaki tributary. Buildings are packed tightly together to help protect the residents from the strong winds that pick up each afternoon. Taylor Weidman