The Image, the Body, and the Asana
Back in the day, I used to be a photographer. And by “back in the day,” I mean when we used to use film in our cameras—even more back in the day, I worked with a light meter, before cameras would think for you and set the exposure. I used to develop film. With chemicals. And print using an enlarger. On paper.
Why am I talking about this, you ask? On Saturday, I watched photographer, Ashtangi, and Friend of The Confluence Countdown, Michelle Haymoz at work. Man, have times changed with photography.
But that’s not really the point. Michelle was shooting at Tim Miller’s, taking pictures of myself and two other yoga models (both way more accomplished than me, by the way). Michelle’s building her portfolio, and it was such a shock to be asked, I nearly turned her down. Me? Photo-worthy? Hm.
I was so glad I went. For one thing, it was great to be in the space of the shala when she was at work. If you’ve never been, Tim’s is a quiet, sunny, second-story space with lots of light—and the walls and floor give that light a kind of golden quality.
So just being there in the off hours was a new experience. But also watching Michelle interact with her subjects made me ponder the complex relationship a yogi has with the physical body.
Michelle herself seemed blithely unaware of the beauty of her own movements. She had set up a simple white background, a “soft box” (a light diffuser), and a few reflectors. She relied on her eye and her instincts to compose a shot, and it was fascinating to watch. It made me wonder if we aren’t most beautiful when we are least aware of ourselves.
You may have this idea in your mind of the cliché photographer, slouchy and fast-talking, walking around using the auto fire button to capture shot after shot. This was not Michelle. In fact, she took one shot at a time, composing and changing settings (the basics of exposure and shutter speed are still the same, it seems) and she spent most of her time on the floor.
It’s clear that her Ashtanga practice allows her to move comfortably there, low to the ground—sometimes even on her stomach. The heavy camera with its sophisticated lens seemed weightless in her hands. She sometimes used props for herself, sliding back on Tim’s blankets to get the right angle. She seemed to sense where the camera needed to be, and seemingly unconsciously, just folded her body in whatever way she needed to get the camera there. It’s her practice, of course, that allows for this kind of movement: confident, light, efficient.
She spoke quietly, almost as if she were adjusting you in a Mysore room: “Hold there.” “Extend through the spine.” “Flex your foot.” “Relax your face.” It actually reminded me more of modeling for a painter than a photographer. She was looking for the right frozen moment.
It’s probably why I felt comfortable with her. I don’t think I’ve had my picture professionally taken since my high school graduation shot, and it’s pretty clear in it that I’m not all that happy about it. Just the opposite with Michelle. I totally trusted her instructions, and in some ways didn’t feel like I was getting my picture taken. I was practicing. If you take a moment to look at some of her shots on the website, it’s clear her other subjects feel that way, too.
Michelle was kind enough to share some shots she’d taken for herself at the 2012 Confluence. I’m very fond of a shot of Eddie Stern, knee-deep in the bay, lighted with camphor fire (you can see it on her website). Michelle made herself invisible for this shot. I must’ve been standing mere feet away from her—Steve standing right next to me—we have no memory of a photographer being there. There’s something fundamentally yogic about that.
So now, I’ll have some amazing photos of myself in asanas. Being in front of the camera is a very different place than behind it. Having the opportunity to watch her work gave me a chance to feel comfortable with the former. I’m not sure how to feel about seeing myself doing a pose–it never happens. I rely on the eyes of my teachers. But the one thing I can do comfortably is admire Michelle’s creative abilities. Thanks, Michelle.
Posted by Bobbie