© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Photographer Documents Life In Bhutan

Photographer Regina DeLuise took a chance and ended up in Bhutan.

“Oftentimes in my life and in my career, I’ll just kind of throw my hat far over the fence somewhere and then go collect it and see what happens,” DeLuise told “Cityscape” host Steve Potter. “It was a very amazing trip. (A) very special place.”

DeLuise, Maryland Institute College of Art’s photography chairwoman, worked with the Volunteer Artist Studio in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, to secure a visa and was able to work with artists and students there. Bhutan is a small predominantly Buddhist country in south Asia, bordered by China and India. DeLuise’s photos will be on display at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art in St. Louis; the exhibit opens Saturday.

“There is a wonderful intimacy in her work,” said the Rev. Terry Dempsey, MOCRA’s director. “There are four spectacular portrait photographs in this exhibition. She has a real wonderful way of letting you have access to these people, and yet there’s a mystery also. But you’ll have all of these little still lifes of an ironing board leaning against a wall or a flower stuck in one of the throw-away plastic water bottles, or a book open. They cause you to just pause and look at things that we’d ordinarily not pay much attention to and look at them again as objects of beauty.”

All of DeLuise’s photos are black and white, which “sort of instantly transforms or transports you,” she said. In part, that’s because of the camera she uses.

“It is sort of based on an antique camera. It’s quite a new camera, but it’s an 8-by-10 field camera,” DeLuise said. “It’s quite a simple arrangement, but it produces a large-format negative. So I have plates that are holding film that are 8 by 10 inches, and I put that in the back of the camera and I go under the dark cloth so I can darken the ground glass and see what I’m looking at. Interestingly, the image that I see on the back of the camera is upside-down. It’s not a fancy camera so there are no mirrors inside that would invert the image as it would in other cameras. So when I’m working, the image is already abstracted in some way for me.

“But I love the camera. I’ve used it since I was an undergrad student. It’s heavy — 25 pounds or so. It really requires some physical effort, and I find that it was just very conducive to the way that I see. I like to sort of take time with what I’m looking at. There isn’t anything particularly instant about what I do with photography.”

From her 2010 trip, DeLuise said she was struck by the Bhutanese.

“I think that the thing that was most prevalent and most amazing to me was the generosity of the culture and the openness of the people,” she said. “I think that in certain ways, everything seemed quite simple there. They don’t seem to have a lot, but the sort of richness of their lives was really evident based on their faith and their dedication and their commitment to one another.”

When she was a beginning photographer, DeLuise said she was encouraged by her uncle, actor and comedian Dom DeLuise. Dom DeLuise starred in several movies directed by Mel Brooks. He died in 2009.

“He was a wonderful man and we miss him greatly,” Regina DeLuise said. “He was a very early supporter of my work and purchased it and introduced me to his friends who also purchased it — Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. He was a real champion of my work.

Related Event

“VAST Bhutan: Images from the Phenomenal World” by photographer Regina DeLuise

  • When: Jan. 24-May 10, 2015; DeLuise will attend an opening reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015
  • Where: Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, 3700 W. Pine Mall Blvd., Saint Louis University, St. Louis
  • More information

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.