I am currently traveling in Florida, and it seems that I always have my camera in hand at sunset.
Atop my cubicle at work, I have a couple of colleagues who always seem to be engaged in a silent dialogue, but ever ready to give me some encouraging thoughts or a stroke of fortune. I had not noticed until recently that their eyes seem to be engaged. The Gandhi figurine was a gift from my wife after I survived a particular painful dental procedure nearly a decade ago, while the piece of Okinawan folk art is a good luck spirit, a gift from a Japanese English student who lived with us for a few months.
I am going to have to find them some good company one of these days.
My friend and dedicated Ashtangi Donavan Wilson sent me a message today:
David Ingalls is shutting down AYC (Ashtanga Yoga Center, for those not in the know). The doors close on May 31. The studio space near American University is too expensive. Keith Moore (long-time AYC teacher) found another location. The new location is unofficially in the MacArthur Boulevard area (DC). The tentative new name is the Ashtanga Yoga Studio. Moore has not signed a lease. However, the odds pretty good to solidify this new location. All of this (new space and location) is up in the air. AYC closing is not.
What a bummer! And to think, I have not had a chance to take a class there — though I do have until the end of May. What did in AYC was what made it a convenient place to practice yoga — it was right next to the American University/Tenlyetown Metro station, right across from WholeFood. You could fit in a Mysore class before picking up a bagel and heading to work. But economically, the rent got too high at that prime location. Let’s hope that all the instructors and students find an appropriate space for their practice.
I should also underscore that the AYC website distinguished itself for exquisite photography of yogis and yoginis absorbed in their practice. As someone who has dabbled in that dark art, I know how difficult it is to capture the instance, but when you do, it’s magic.
Postscript: I should also note that DC is not the only place where yoga studios can become unviable commercially: In New York City, Om Yoga will shut down at the end of June because the lease was not renewed. Om Yoga was founded and run by Cyndi Lee, a high-profile yoga instructor and pioneer in fusing yoga with Buddhism. The owner of the building did not want a ygoa studio on the premises.
I was playing around with a sequence of photos taken at Thrive Yoga a while ago, and I blended them into a video sequence. It’s got the usual hackney cliches of transitions between stills, pans and zooms. But it was fun.
YogaDork points us to DudesDoingYoga, which consists of photos and videos of guys doing yoga (surprise). Some nice shots and the links lead off all over the place. I especially like FuckYeahYoga.
For the next constituency lacking love and recognition, I am going to start a new site called OldFartsDoingYoga.com.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve wanted to give a big pointer to Carol Horton’s Think Body Electric, citing just one post, Yogis, Ascetic, and Fakirs: Fascinating historical images of India that I don’t pretend to understand, but I could mention any number of posts over the past year. In this particular entry, she runs through a number of photographs and drawings from India, and registers her own emotional reaction to these photos of “non-Western” practices. She has all the analytical skills of an academic, but never loses her personal (moral, ethical, whatever) compass. I was struck by the following comments:
In other words, all of the cultural referents that were hard-wired into me at an early age were Judeo-Christian. This is not good or bad; it just is. But it is significant.I can work to understand Hinduism, traditional yogic austerities, or whatever. But it’s not encoded into my cultural DNA.Even in today’s highly globalized, mulit-culti world, I still feel very conscious of being a Westerner.
Last Saturday, my wife and I set off for a late vacation in the Caribbean. We had hoped that we would be able to avoid hurricanes and foul weather. The first two days, the sun was out and we spent some great time on the beach.
On Monday, we woke up to strong winds, sheets of rain and a growing awareness of what we had gotten ourselves into.
Our resort was located right on the ocean, but on the leeward side of the island so the full force of the storm did not hit us. We were also sheltered by hills. The resort management switched over to their own power generator even before the storm hit.
Shortly after I took these shots, the wind shifted and came straight at us. Our balcony began to fill with water. Darkness came and we could not see how fiercely the winds were blowing, only hear their howling. That was the most intimidating moment. Continue reading
At the Brian Kest workshop at Thrive Yoga a month ago, I took it upon myself to be the official photographer of the event. I took my Nixon D40 and kept it near my mat. A couple of times a session, I got up and took some photos, as many as I could because so many uncontrollable factors (and my own inexperience) can cross up a photo. You can see a selection of the shots at the Thrive Yoga Facebook photo gallery
Kest was cool with the distraction of a flash and shutter going off. Susan told the people that if they objected to any of their photos that showed up on Facebook, they could drop her an e-mail and we would remove it. I made a point of taking lots of shots of student greeting Kest after class. Several people specifically requested photos as mementos. Saturday class was more packed and it was really hard to move around. For the workshop weekend, I positioned my mat in a spot in the corner that allowed me a little more leeway because it was “leftover space” — no one could fit another mat in there. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, it became so hot and humid that the lens started fogging up and everything took on a halo-like glow. I caught it on Sunday and could wipe it clean with a towel, but I was afraid that I would scratch the lens.
There were times when I did not feel comfortable taking pix. For instance, during the Long, Slow and Deep (LSD, get it!) session on Saturday afternoon. People were really zoned into their experience. Besides, by the time, we had actually tunneled into the sequence and deep restorative poses, I didn’t know if I could get up. And if I got up, whether I would be able to get back down again and in the same mind and body set. I decided that meditative sets were off base (well, the whole practice is meditative, but you know what I mean).
I don’t have any other lenses so I had no way to get around the limited anlges and focus depth. Susan had commented that I tend to show panoramic views of the whole (really a large segment of) class. I tried to focus in on individuals or smaller groups. As evident in this blog, I am working on a series of photos that concentrate on isolated shots, a hand, a foot, clasped hands in a bind. Rather than looking at the whole pose and the full practitioner, I am focusing on a small slice of practice — a kind of drishti.
There is this obsessive idea of the perfect pose in much of the Western practice of yoga, that you have to get the alignment just right, find your edge with ease and grace. So we want to see lanky models pose with perfect lighting. That’s why I like the isolation shots because there is no presumption of perfection. The foot of a novice on the mat is just as eloquent as the foot of a master. It tells a lot of things. My daughter, for instance, saw a picture of a foot and hand on a mat and immediately noted that the ball of the foot was slightly raised, putting more weight on the outer edge of the foot. In yoga, you’re supposed to distribute the weight over all “four corners” of the foot.
I find myself really draw to this subject matter. In part, I am grappling with words to describe the experience and frequently coming up short. Photography offers another approach, more spontaneous, direct, succinct. But you’re only working with the surface, which is only the first layer of the senses.
Taking pictures is a great excuse for stopping in the middle of a demanding vinyasa and taking a breather. It was a demanding practice so I welcomed the opportunity to get out of more hard stuff. I also welcomed the chance to get around and look at other people’s practices more closely. It was enriching to see the diversity of experience and ease on display.
I was following John Friend’s twittering and came across a link to this shot. Twitpic has several other shots of massed yogis in formation. Awe-inspiring gatherings that project channeled prana. Friend is on tour, currently in Canada, putting on workshops for Anusara yoga teachers.
As a hack photographer, I am fascinated by shots of yoga practice, both the group sync and the individual pose. John — or his people — have many opportunities. It’s a lot harder than it looks because the photographer has to capture the instance of grace in poor, indoor lighting, and frequently in movement.
Dana Cohen, an itinerant yoga teacher and creative imagineer, in Kukkutasana or cock pose
When I bought my camera last week, I had a twinge of hesitation, even reluctance, and it was not just because it was almost four hundred dollars more on my credit card. Getting into serious photography means that I have to devote time to learning how to use the unique technology encased in SLR cameras. Sure, with default settings, I can take dramatically better photographs than with a point & shoot camera, like my Sony Powershot A630. But when I get into more challenging shooting environments, like inside studios, then it becomes more complicated to get the right settings. I’ve been winging it so far, and then hoping to correct any flaws in lighting, hue, contrast or saturation while retouching the digital photos on my computer. That brings me to the second cause for reluctance, learning how to manipulate digital photos in Adobe PhotoShop (for serious professionals) — or Corel Paintshop Pro (for amateurs who wanted a full-featured application) in my case, at least for the time being — without turning them into garish reflections of the real thing.
I don’t think that it’s exceptionally hard to get the basics of photography: it just requires setting some time (hours, days, man-years?) aside to read the manual, supports sites, photography blogs, etc. and then apply the skeleton of a knowledge system while the ideas are still fresh in the head. I frequently will do the research, but then not find the time to apply the tips and tricks soon enough to consolidate the lesson. With a number of pending projects and to-do lists, I don’t need another major task, but it looks as if I have done just that.
This became apparent to me after my latest round of shooting yoga poses at Thrive Yoga. Using my son’s Nikon D90, I was able to shot more richly detailed photos and not have to worry about being out of focus or poorly lit. But once I got back home and worked with the material, I began to see shortcomings and flaws. First, rather than using the built-in flash, a separate, stronger flash bounced off the ceiling would have produced much better lighting. Second, another lens or two would have allowed me to have more variety in my angles and scope. Those two points can add nearly $350-500, minimum, to the price tag of this “hobby.”
As to the initial hurdles of getting on firm footing with manipulating the digital files, I probably should have a couple of chats with my son, Matt, who has gone well beyond the initial steps of mastering digital photography.