Marilyn Silverstone, who has died of cancer in Kathmandu aged 70, was one of only five women members of the Magnum Photos
co-operative. Yet after more than 20 years of freelancing for publications such as Life
and Paris Match
, she gave up the glamour of photo-journalism to become a Buddhist nun in Nepal.
Source: The Guardian
Marilyn Rita Silverstone (9 March 1929 – 28 September 1999) was the eldest daughter of Murray and Dorothy Silverstone was born in London. Her father, the son of Polish immigrants to America, rose to become managing director, and president, international, respectively, of United Artists and 20th-Century Fox, working with Charlie Chaplin and other early film stars in London. The family returned to America just before the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe. Silverstone grew up in Scarsdale, New York. After graduating from Wellesley College, she became an associate editor for Art News, Industrial Design and Interiors
in the early 1950s. She moved to Italy to make documentary art films.
Marilyn Silverstone became a working photojournalist in 1955, traveling and capturing the range of images that her vision led her to find in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. In 1956, she travelled to India on an assignment to photograph Ravi Shankar. She returned to the subcontinent in 1959; what was intended to be a short trip became the beginning of a fascination with India which lasted for the rest of her life. Her photographs of the arrival in India of the Dalai Lama, who was escaping from the Chinese invasion of Tibet, made the lead in Life
In that period, she met and fell in love with the journalist Frank Moraes. Moraes was then editor of The Indian Express
. The couple lived together in New Delhi until 1973, socializing with politicians, journalists and intellectuals, and diplomats. A number of Moraes' editorials had earned the ire of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the situation deteriorated to the point that a retreat to London became the best course.
Over the years, Silverstone's reputation as a photographer grew. In 1967, she joined Magnum Photos
, in which she was only one of five women members. Silverstone's work for Magnum included photographing subjects ranging from Albert Schweitzer to the coronation of the Shah of Iran.
Silverstone's conversion to Buddhist nun was said to have begun when she was a teenager suffering from the mumps. She later explained that during this conventional childhood illness, she read Secret Tibet
by Fosco Maraini and she said the book provided a key she long carried in her subconscious.
In the late 1960s, Marilyn Silverstone had worked on a photography assignment about a Tibetan Buddhist lama in Sikkim named Khanpo Rinpoche
and, when the lama came to London for medical treatment in the 1970s, Rinpoche stayed with the couple. At this point, Silverstone decided to learn Tibetan in order to study Buddhism with him. After Moraes's death in 1974, Silverstone decided to join the entourage of another celebrated lama, Khentse Rinpoche, who left London for a remote monastery in Nepal.
In 1977, she took vows as a Buddhist nun. Her Buddhist name was Bhikshuni Ngawang Chödrön
, or Ani Marilyn to her close friends. In her new life in Kathmandu, she researched the vanishing customs of Rajasthan and the Himalayan kingdoms.
In 1999, Ngawang Chödrön
returned to the United States for cancer treatment and she learned that she was terminally ill. She was clear that she wanted to die in Nepal, her home for the past 25 years. However, no airline would carry a passenger in her fragile condition. She resolved the impasse by persuading a doctor on vacation to accompany her on the return to Kathmandu. The journey was fraught with difficulties. She was barely conscious during the trip and a stopover was necessary in Vienna. She died in 1999 in a Buddhist monastery near Katmandu where she had worked to establish and maintain.
At the time of Silverstone's death, the preparation of an exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery featuring her work and that of other Magnum photographers was nearing completion. The University of St Andrews hosted a seminar in conjunction with this exhibition, and as Silverstone had just recently died, the seminar became an opportunity for her peers to celebrate her life and career.
Born in London in 1929, Marilyn Silverstone graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, then worked as an associate editor for Art News, Industrial Design, and Interiors during the 1950s. She also served as an associate producer and historical researcher for an Academy Award-winning series of films on painters.
In 1955 she began to photograph professionally as a freelancer with the Nancy Palmer Agency
, New York, working in Asia, Africa, Europe, Central America and the Soviet Union. In 1959, she was sent on a three-month assignment to India, but ended up moving to New Delhi and was based there until 1973. During that time she produced the books Bala Child of India
(1962) and Ghurkas and Ghosts
(1964), and later The Black Hat Dances
(1987), and Ocean of Life
(1985), a journey of discovery that aims to take the reader to the heart of a complex and compassionate Buddhist culture. Kashmir in Winter, a film made from her photographs, won an award at the London Film Festival in 1971.
Silverstone became an associate member of Magnum in 1964, a full member in 1967, and a contributor in 1975.
Marilyn Silverstone, whose photographs have appeared in many major magazines, including Newsweek
, Look, Vogue
and National Geographic
, became an ordained Buddhist nun in 1977. She lived in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she practiced Buddhism and researched the vanishing customs of the Rajasthani and Himalayan kingdoms. She died in October 1999 at the Shechen monastery, near Kathmandu, which she had helped to finance.
Silverstone’s photographic estate is managed by Magnum Photos under the direction of James A. Fox, a former Magnum Editor-in-Chief, and present Curator.
Source: Magnum Photos