Olivier Föllmi born in the Alps in 1958, of Swiss, Italian and French origin.




A traveller’s life  

In 1976, I discovered Asia at the age of 18 when I followed the trail through the centre of Afghanistan and went up the Panchir valley to climb the Mir-Sa-Mir (6059 m). This adventure from a different age was to decide my destiny: for the next twenty years, I travelled the Himalayas on foot, as much in love with the mountains as with its inhabitants.

In 1979, I discovered Zanskar, a Tibetan valley in India, one of the most isolated inhabited regions on earth. For the next fifteen years, I spent my time between Zanskar and the West, learning much from the values of both worlds. I was looking for adventure and, as such, spent four winters in Zanskar cut off by the snow. This included a winter stay at Phuktal monastery 4000 metres high, where Tashi Tundup, its spiritual leader, taught me that in each person the Buddha has planted a seed.

As a guide in the Himalayas for the travel agency ARTOU based in Geneva, I visited Zanskar each year. Zanskar was to offer me not only my profession as a photographer but also a family: in 1989 Lobsang and Dolma, a young village couple, entrusted us their two children, Motup and Diskit, to ensure their education. Our winter journey down the Frozen River to take the children to school was considered by Life Magazine as one of the finest human adventures of the 20th century, and was a World Press Photo prize-winner. This was the start of a genuine love story between two families and two worlds. Twenty-five years later, we celebrated in Zanskar the wedding of Motup and then of Diskit, in the company of their four parents.

From 1984 to 1987, I photographed Tibet to share with others my love for this country and incite people to rise up in its defence. In 1992, adding two turquoise jewels to the rosary of our life, the exiled Tibetan community in India entrusted our couple with the adoption of two children, Yvan Tséring and Léonore Pema, who now live in Europe.

From 1988 to 2008, once every two years, I was hired as an expedition photographer to climb the magnificent high altitude peaks in central Asia, the Himalayas and the Andes. Between 6000 and 8000 metres I took pleasure in surpassing myself and understanding what were my limits. Since then I have chosen to leave such summits to the gods and demons.

From 1990 onwards, I toured French-speaking Europe for seven years as a speaker for the “Connaissance du Monde” conferences. I was delighted to follow in the same tracks and tread the same stages as Tazieff, Bombard, Herzog, Demaison, de Golish, the Mahuziers, and the Krafts, my adventure heroes.

In 1992, together with Danielle Pons-Föllmi, I founded HOPE ((Humanity Organisation for People and Education), an association that supports education worldwide. For me it is essential that my photos, in return, allow development of the regions where they were taken.

In 1998, I decided to try to produce a film. I wrote and co-directed two films for Canal+ in Ladakh and Zanskar. However, I found I was unable to work with their teams in the midst of isolated populations. I felt I was betraying the message of humility these people had taught me, and that I was exploiting their simplicity.

In 2000, I preferred to return to my life as a travelling photographer, photographing the dalai-lama during his stay in France and journeying throughout the world to find the seeds of Buddha in each person. I wanted to study and understand every culture, I craved knowledge of every truth, I wished to testify to people as a single Humanity. I thus travelled the world from 2004 to 2010 to illustrate the wisdoms of the leading traditions of Humanity. This collection of seven volumes of 365 thoughts complied by Danielle Pons-Föllmi was published in more than one and a half million copies, and translated into nine languages.

Since 1976, I’ve had my fair share of honours, and a few slaps in the face too. But my passion for what I do has always allowed me to place them in their right context and to continue my life adventure with a single sentence in mind :

"Never ask your way to someone who knows it, as how can you then stray from your path…" (Rabbi Nahman de Bratslav)






© © Olivier Föllmi