Belgian photographer Martine Franck talks about one of her favourite shots :
I don’t look at my photographs very often, but this picture always makes me happy. It was just such a perfect moment.
I was in a Buddhist monastery in Nepal in 1996, photographing these reincarnated children, each of whom gets an education from one main teacher. The master usually knew the person the child is supposed to have been reincarnated from - often it was his own master - so they have very close, almost motherly relationships.
The children have to work very hard, because they will one day be passing on the Buddhist teachings themselves. The little boy was having slight problems reciting all the mantras he had to remember. The pigeon was already in the room, just sort of flitting around. Buddhists love animals, so they were all over the monastery.
I was there for an hour, just sitting quietly in a corner, observing. I never imagined for a second that the bird would perch on the monk’s head. That’s the wonder of photography - you try and capture the surprises.
I was in the right place at the right time, with the right lens on. If I’d had a zoom lens on, I wouldn’t have had time to set it at the correct distance. In fact, I had two Leicas, a 35mm and a 50mm, both already adjusted for the light, and the 35mm did the job.
The picture is somehow a symbol of peace, and of young people getting on with old people. Although I certainly didn’t think that at the time - in the moment, it’s just instinctive. Afterwards, maybe, you realise what the photograph means.
When I came back, I showed it to a very close friend of mine, the photographer Josef Koudelka, and he said: “Martine, if you brought only this one picture back from India your trip was worthwhile.”