Bhutan, Laos, Easter Island, Angkor Wat, Oaxaca, Yuba College; it would seem, at first, that there is little connection between these disparate regions of the world and our little college, but a link is there, and it lies in one man and his camera.
Richard Murai, a professor of photography and avid traveler, spent a year away from Yuba College on sabbatical in research of his craft. For the better half of that year, he went from locale to exotic locale, experimenting with digital photography and capturing what he felt were some of the more poignant scenes to be observed. These images were featured at the Yuba-Sutter Regional Arts Council Building from the beginning of August until mid-September, when the exhibition closed with a presentation by Murai.
A strong theme found in his work is that of sacred sites. “I have an ongoing, life-long project of photographing sacred places,” the professor said, “whether they be religious or just have a strong spiritual foundation.” His work strongly reflects this, with pictures of temples and monasteries, as well the monks who occupy them. A few significant pictures presented by Professor Murai were of black hat dancers in Bhutan. These are monks who train intensively to perform sacred dances wearing ceremonial garb, masks, and the black hats.
Another site of spiritual interest that drew Professor Murai was Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, the small isle west of the South American coastline famous for its giant stone heads, or moai. “Easter Island isn’t necessarily a religious kind of thing, but it has a really strong spiritual base,” said the professor. His work on the island featured the moai extensively, as well as the landscape of the island, which is another of his photographic specialties.
When asked what it was that spurred his interest in sacred sites, Professor Murai went back to his upbringing in Catholic school, but felt that his interest had evolved into “seeing the manifestation of religious fervor and religious belief. It’s amazing what different cultures, different societies have produced based on those beliefs.”
One may notice, after looking at his work, that while work from abroad is abundant, pictures from around the States is conspicuously absent. Even with a wealth of spiritual sites in the US, ranging from mega-churches to Native ruins, Murai decided to take his camera overseas. He commented that he does travel across the US when he gets the chance, but prefers overseas photography because of the greater “excitement” and “culture shock” that only foreign lands can offer. Most importantly, he cited the limited window of time that one has to visit any given country. He gave Bhutan as an example, which had only been accessible to tourists since the 1980s.
With his exhibition already moving to its second venue in Nevada City, Murai didn’t have any new projects in mind, but for such an ardent photographer, it’s unlikely that he’ll sit idle for long. For the moment, his mind sits firmly with Yuba College, where he is a vocal advocate for preservation of the arts. “In this current economic climate, with the budget cuts, I’m hoping the Fine Arts department survives as unscathed as possible, because we need these courses, these disciplines for us to continue to be human.”