In the Shadow of Everest presents photographer Tom Wool’s images of life in the villages of Tibet’s Rongbuk Valley. Taken over the course of four weeks in May 2001, Wool’s photographs capture the Valley’s rugged terrain, which stretches roughly thirty miles from the base of Mount Everest on the north side. Home to some 3,000 Tibetans, the Rongbuk Valley area is of distinct importance to the indigenous population for its sacred geography and religious history. Believed to be the place where earth touches the heavÂens, Mount Everest is called “Chomolungma” in Tibetan, meaning “Mother Goddess of the Earth.” The valley is also home to the Rongbuk Monastery, the highest of any in the world at 17,000 feet above sea level.
Accompanied by two yakmen and a tiny horse, Wool followed the route taken during the first British expeditions through this area, including that taken by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine as they attempted their ill-fated Everest climb in 1924. Wool quickly came to realize how little this area had changed since those early expeditions. His photographs epitomize the Valley’s harsh terrain that has been marked by mud brick homes, populated by Buddhist monks and yogis, and inhabited by yaks, sheep, and goats for centuries. Within several years of Wool’s documentation, however, this remote area saw the encroachment of modernity when a road was created to bring the Olympic torch from Mount Everest to Beijing.