Nicholas Vreeland lived a very luxurious life. The grandson of Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, and son of diplomat Frecky Vreeland, his life was one of freedom, money, and world travel. A dedicated photographer, Nicholas even had the ability to work with some of the greatest photographers through his connections at Vogue. One day, he gave it all up to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk. His work as a photographer would eventually come to the aid of his fellow monks, when the photos that he took while studying were used to raise money to build a new monastery for the monks.

The story told in Monk with a Camera isn’t necessarily a new one. There have been films about people seeking spiritual fulfilment and leaving their lives behind to achieve it, but Vreeland is unique in how much he gave up. It certainly makes the story more fascinating to viewers, as it’s hard to imagine someone leaving such a wealthy lifestyle behind. It’s also unique in that the one thing that Vreeland never really gave up, his photography, is also the one thing that managed to help so many of his fellow monks.

While his story at first may not be that different from others, where Vreeland ends up is very different. His years of study and devotion to his fellow monks leads to the Dalai Lama appointing Vreeland Abbot of the very monastery he helped build. This is a first, and is seen as a way to bring the Western world closer to the Tibetan world. Of course, the journey there is a fascinating one, made all the more entertaining by what a wonderful person Vreeland is.

Hearing about Vreeland’s journey from monetary wealth to spiritual wealth is touching, but it’s the way in which he seems to bridge the two worlds that is the most interesting. It’s through his resources that they’re able to build a new monastery, and we watch as he continuously debates with himself over his photography. He’s never sure if it’s a pure thing to partake in, but without it, there would be no new home for himself and the monks he lives with. It’s this spirit of giving of himself to others that becomes the most important part of the film. Surely this is all we need to learn to make our lives, and the lives of those around us even better.

Is Monk with a Camera opening weekend worthy?

An absolute must see film. A very intimate look at the lives of Tibetan Buddhist monks, a display of the breathtaking photography of Nicholas Vreeland, and an important lesson in the way in which each of us should strive to be the best person we can be.

Monk with a Camera opens Friday, January 9, 2015 at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Check their website for more information.

Monk with a Camera trailer

Monk with a Camera gallery