1. “Photos can be many things
Art, remembrance, documentation.
Here they become symbols
of a deeper truth”
“The heart of all religions is one.”
His Holiness the XIV. Dalai Lama
2. “This is our answer to the 11th of September 2001”
Elie Wiesel, Winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace / USA
3. “ He took pictures with his heart”
Mae-chee Sansaee / Thailand
4. “So many eyes… so many religions…but the same truth: Ralf Tooten makes religion live for us, no matter whether we are believers or atheists. This, too, is made clear in the multitude of wonderfully beautiful photographs: Human freedom is also reflected in religion.”
Dario Fo, Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature / Italy
5. “If it is possible for us to approach and come up close to wisdom through the eyes of a human being, then it is Ralf Tooten who shows us how human beings can come close to God through the sensitivity of his artistic vision into the “Eyes of Wisdom” – not to one single, particular God, but rather to each and every imaginable God.”
Leoluca Orlando / Italy
6. “One cannot photograph the aura. Ralf Tooten can. His photos from the spiritual world are saturated with experience and immaterial at the same time. What is most precious about them is the inner space that they point out; a realm that, in this book, is inhabited by the community of all who see with the eyes of wisdom. Someone who is able to produce such photographs must also have such eyes.”
Roger Willemsen / Germany
A Look Into The Heart of The World’s Religions
A Unique Photo Volume
Is there a way into the heart of the world’s religions that opens up intuitively, without much having to be said? – through the human face, at first sight?
Ralf Tooten, the photographer and Bernhard Strathmann, the editor, have journeyed in pursuit of the answer to this question, thousands of kilometres through five continents. Their answer is a truly peerless volume of photographs: “Eyes of Wisdom.”
After four years on the road the premises of their “spiritual expeditions” were validated in a series of approx. 100 extraordinary portrait photographs: “The heart of all religions is one” – thus the formulation of the Dalai Lama.
A thesis as provocative as it is pioneering, at a time in which inter-religious dialog is in danger of breaking down.
Ralf Tooten’s photography is an argument that speaks for itself.
Because it is indeed eyes of wisdom that look back at us from within the most diverse cultural contexts and move us to mute dialog: The eyes of an acetic Indian yogi, who has not left his temple in 40 years, the eyes of an eight-year-old girl from Kathmandu, regarded as a saint in her Nepalese homeland, playing with a rabbit with childlike spontaneity. The eyes of the “sky-clad” ascetic that, far from shame, regard the world with the fullness of dignity and with perfect serenity.
Finally, the eyes of the Dalai Lama, that in fact know the entire world and yet regard each object, each human being, with the same alertness, eyes filled with devotion, wakefulness and spiritual power and – as in this photo – with limitless love of life.
Something lives in these eyes, something that many of us are lacking today:
Re-connectedness beyond doubt and uncertainty – religio.
Those wishing to learn more about the contents of the traditions to which these carefully selected representatives of the world’s most important religions feel connected can refer to the glossary at the end of the book.
To the two travellers the common spirit accentuated in the core utterances that were given to the visitors as sustenance on their journey and that, along with a short biography of the person portrayed, enhance the book’s primary optical impression – the one and only tribute to the word.
But the portraits should speak for themselves, the facial contours of those who are without doubt close to the experience of ultimate meaning:
Prominent spiritual personalities, sought out by many and greatly revered, such as the Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who teaches world-wide and “simple believers” such as the nuns in the slums of Katmandu. Their eyes indeed speak more than a thousand words. They do not speak of recruitment and mission, their fascination lies in their quiet depth.
“We feel we have been given gifts of infinite richness through these encounters,” says Ralf Tooten. And he knows well how to pass this gift on – through great photographic art.
The Nobel Prize Laureate and Jewish scholar Elie Wiesel summarized the spiritual essence of this book in these words: “This is the answer to September 11!”
Article by Stefan Tolksdorf