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Martin Gray credits the architects, not himself, for this photographys such as this one of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.
Martin Gray credits the architects, not himself, for this photographys such as this one of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.

Power Broker

Every time I move, I make the same promise to myself: This time I'll clean out all drawers and cabinets, tossing out Tupperware bowls without lids, dried-up ink pens, and all those stamps and postcards I've collected to produce a collage to make James Michael Starr proud. If I had thrown away just one scrap of paper each time I made that vow, I'd have an abode worthy of any Feng Shui enthusiast instead of one just a few cats short of condemnation.

In short, I want to be like Martin Gray. He owns three shirts and two pairs of pants. He's the ultimate minimalist, owning only the necessities plus hundreds of books on archaeology, religion, mythology, and philosophy. Though he considers himself a nomad, he has a home--a library, really--in Arizona where he stores his precious tomes and even more precious negatives while he traipses the globe on religious pilgrimages, photographing sacred sites, meditating, and generally making Indiana Jones look like a graduate student with tunnel vision.

In 17 years, the 46-year-old former Hindu monk has visited more than 70 countries (traveling almost half on bicycle) and photographed 1,200 monuments revered by the world's ancient faiths. Besides the big names--Stonehenge, the pyramids at Giza, Machu Pichu, Tibet's Buddhist temples, and Jerusalem--he's searched out obscure sites culled from archaic texts, period histories, and decaying journals. He's on a mission (he says it was mapped in meticulous detail during a vision) to photograph what he calls "power places" and present his shots during slide shows where he discusses their history, religious importance, and contemporary relevance. Along the way he hopes to convince people to preserve these sacred spots and the Earth upon which they're built.

While some could dismiss his stance as another New Age, tree-hugging diatribe that tries to simplify complex ecological and environmental issues with sentiments of love and peace, his devotion is at least earnest. He's eschewed things for which other people strive their entire lives. He spent most of his childhood in India but returned to America for college, eventually opening a chain of travel agencies. He says that he had the perfect yuppie lifestyle--big bank account, expensive car, massive house, gorgeous girlfriend--but that he didn't feel fulfilled.

Though it sounds like a plot summary from PAX TV's fall lineup, it's a story he tells repeatedly as he lugs his two 12-foot screens and two slide projectors around the United States for his presentations. While he flashes 600 images that range from skyscraper-tall golden Buddhas to Dogon mud shrines in Africa, he hopes to influence others to discover the power of these sacred sites, save the planet, or, minimally, clean out a closet or two.


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