The late James Pryor and Thomas Laird, Copyright, 2003, Thomas Laird
Thomas C. Laird is an author, photographer and journalist.
In 1971 at age eighteen, he left the United States and traveled overland, alone, from Europe through Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Nepal.
In the next two years he made that trip six times.
In 1973, after studying with Tibetan refugees in Nepal, he received a grant from I.A.A. Anstalt to make sound recordings in Buddhist monasteries in Kathmandu. The recordings were released as one of the first LP's of Tibetan ritual music ever made, by Lyrichord. In 1978, he traveled through revolution in Iran and then finally settled full time in Nepal in 1979. Based in Kathmandu he worked as a photographer, Himalayan trek guide, and journalist for decades. Between contracts, he lived in remote areas of Nepal pursuing independent research and photo documentation projects. He speaks fluent Nepali, as well as a bit of Tibetan-very badly-and has led more than 50 Himalayan expeditions in Nepal, Tibet and India.
Many of the world's major magazines have published Laird's work over the past thirty years: National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, Men's Journal, Conde Nast Traveler, Outside, The New York Times, The Sunday Telegraph, Stern, The South China Morning Post, People, Le Figaro, Geo, The Asahi Shinbum, Elle, and El Messagaro amongst many others. Grove Press published his debut non-fiction book in 2002, Into Tibet: The CIA's First Atomic Spy and His Secret Expedition to Lhasa. Peter Matthiessen wrote the text for Laird's first photography book, East of Lo Monthang and Ian Baker wrote the text for his second one The Dalai Lama's Secret Temple.
His adult life has been devoted to documenting different aspects of the art, culture, history, and modern life of Himalayan people, a career that has taken him on treks throughout the Himalayas. In the 1970's he lived three years amongst the Sherpa of Eastern Nepal. He photographed the Nepalese revolution of 1991 for Asiaweek and Time. In 1992, he was given the first travel permit for Mustang, and became the first westerner ever to live there for a year. He was the first westerner ever to walk legally through the Himalayas of Western Nepal to Mount Kailash ; and the first westerner to descend any part of Tibet's Tsangpo River in a coracle in modern times: all of these trips were the subject of books, or magazine stories. He was the Nepal reporter for Asiaweek from 1991 to 2002 and then worked as a stringer reporter and photographer for both Time and Newsweek in Kathmandu. His work for them included the first accurate report on Nepal's 2001 Royal Massacre, as well as battlefield reporting of Nepal's Maoist revolution, in 2003. Additionally he has worked on film projects in various roles: Baraka, 1990, The Gurkhas, 1988-and guided Oliver Stone in Tibet in 1996. Laird has accumulated one of the largest photo-documentation archives of Tibetan murals in the world, including rare images from Tibet's oldest surviving murals, and from abandoned cave monasteries in remote valleys never before, or since, photographed.
Laird's first non-fiction book, Into Tibet was the result of ten years of research. In the 1990's Laird spend months in the National Archives in Washington DC, combing through US Government documents about Tibet from the 1945-1952 period. Ultimately he filed Freedom of Information requests to obtain the key classified documents. Laird then set out on a global hunt for those who knew Douglas Mackiernan, the first undercover CIA officer ever killed in the line of duty. That led him from Florida to Tibet and from India to Hawaii, repeatedly, over the course of six years. He taped more than one hundred hours of interviews with more than two dozen primary sources, ranging from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to current members of the CIA.
Laird first met His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1995, and then, beginning in 1997, the Dalai Lama granted Laird a long series of interviews over the course of three years. It took another six years to shape their dialogue into The Story of Tibet. In 2001, Laird, and his wife, Jann Fenner, bought their first home in the United States and began to spend long periods there, to enable Laird's continuing research on the book. In 2005 as Laird was writing the final draft of The Story of Tibet, Hurricane Katrina forced a halt in work on the book. For the next four months, Laird picked up his camera once again, and worked to document the aftermath of that disaster for America's leading publications. In 2006, the book was completed and is being published in US, UK and German editions. It will appear shortly in half a dozen other European language editions.
Thomas Laird now divides his time between Asia and New Orleans. He is currently working on a number of projects including planning a documentary to be based on The Story of Tibet, and planning an exhibition of life-size photographs of some of Tibet's finest, and largest Buddhist murals, entitled A Millennium of Tibetan Murals.