In the next couple weeks, I’m putting together a community yoga photo event. It will be similar to my How Philly Moves sessions, but rather than featuring dance, we’ll be doing yoga postures. (Please help me spread the word! Interested?
Signup form is here.
UPDATE: The first event has passed, but please sign up for occasional updates if you’d like to hear what’s next, and visit TheImageOfYoga.com for info on the next incarnations of this project. )
Some stories for context…
When Danielle (above), participated in HPM 2014, she not only showed off some beautiful bellydancing, but also some impressive yoga moves.
In the middle of her dancing, she slid down into a super deep set of splits (in yoga circles, the sanskrit name for this is ‘Hanumanasana’) – I wasn’t ready for it at all, so this is totally not an image that I’m particularly proud of as a photographer – but I was definitely impressed with her flexibility:
Here’s the problem:
If you do a quick google image search for Hanumanasana or splits, you won’t find much in the way of images that look like her.
In fact, if you spend even just a few moments doing image searches for yoga, or checking out the covers of yoga magazines, you’ll start to notice a pretty striking lack of diversity.
I sent those image search results to my housemate and her immediate response was:
“whoa! Just looking at that google image search makes me so angry!! No wonder there is a misconception that yoga is only for middle to upper class white women with slim bodies!!!! >:(“
Obviously, the population is more diverse than these images depict.
Just take a look through the results from the most recent incarnation of How Philly Moves and you’ll start to get a sense of it. That’s why I’m planning on making some more diverse yoga images. Know someone that would be interested in participating? Have them sign up!
Why it’s personal:
I’ve been practicing yoga for about 7 years now, since the birth of the amazing community resource that is Studio 34 in W. Philly. (Technically, I started a few months earlier, as Stephen, one of the founders, was teaching out of his house…)
Let’s be clear: Yoga is not actually about being able to twist yourself up into a knot.
In fact, while much of the west has reduced yoga to a set of fancy gymnastics, the physical posture practice of yoga is just one facet of a more complex spiritual/philosophical practice. But that’s a whole other story and this post is already getting long. If you want to dig deeper, DecolonizingYoga might be a good place to start.
But let me just tell you what yoga’s been for me: it’s been such a gift.
It’s helped me work through some of the injuries and asymmetries that I’ve acquired in my photographic practice; it’s reduced my knee and back pain, and I’ve grown in strength and flexibility.
More importantly, it’s gotten me a little bit more more grounded, and helped replace the missing contemplative space of the darkroom; as I’ve begun cultivating strength, flexibility and balance in my physical practice, I’ve also found more of those in other aspects of my life.
But despite having benefited so much from the practice of Yoga, and loving to share it with my friends, I’m not likely to be the “poster” child for yoga anytime soon…
… you see, (and here, allow me to introduce you to all my own little personal body image issues) – I’ve got big wide thighs, kinda scrawny shoulders, and all sorts of funny vasculature in my right leg from a (blessedly minor) case of KT syndrome. I’m not exactly the uber-fit muscular dude who’ll show up on the cover of those yoga magazines on the rare occasion that they do include a non-female.
(Yes, of course, it’s wonderfully ironic: I’m the guy who spends so much energy telling everyone else that they’re perfect as they are, that Everyone is Photogenic, but of course I too have trouble with my own self image. I’m working on it…)
So yeah, bodies like mine don’t show up in those google image searches for yoga any more than ones like Danielle’s. And that’s unfortunate. Because if people think they need to fit into some weird narrow category of body type or ability in order to practice yoga, well, they’re mistaken. And they’re missing out.
I can’t help but wonder: does the way that yoga is represented in our culture make it harder for people who don’t look like this (aka most people) to consider it as a practice that they might be welcome to?
So what if we made a bunch of images of everyday humans doing yoga? All sorts of folks, photographed in the same light, much like what I’ve done with HPM? Wouldn’t that be awesome?
I’ve been talking about doing that on and off with Angie from s34 for several years now, and we’ve taken a few series of images at the studio for their great teacher training, but have had my hands a bit too full to take on another big self-produced project…
Along comes Gaiam…
I got an interesting inquiry a while back from Gaiam, the company that makes lots of yoga products (mats, blocks, clothes, etc) – it turns out that they’d realized that while their philosophy is “yoga for everybody”, their imagery tends to fall into the same look of the same yoga models fitting somewhat narrow demographics.
They expressed interest in commissioning me to make a series of more diverse yoga images through a community yoga photo event modeled on the HPM shoots. Pretty groovy, eh?
(There’s obvious potentially complications when corporate money mixes with community projects, but in this case it seems like a genuine positive intent and a good fit.)
Even more backstory:
This whole connection came about because once upon a time, I stumbled upon the Yoga Studio App, and I thought that it was awesome. So awesome in fact that I’ve gifted it over 40 times to friends on the iTunes store. (I don’t really randomly gift apps to folks except for this one.) Being a bit of a geek, I thought that it could be even slightly more awesome with a few user-interface tweaks, and so I bombarded this small London-based software development team (of one programmer and one yoga teacher) with feedback and feature-requests, and we got to be friendly. When Seb & Julia toured the US and met with some of their user base, they interviewed me and learned all about How Philly Moves. Later, Gaiam bought the app, Seb & Julia moved to Colorado to work for Gaiam, and connections were made…
Here’s the plan:
Gaiam’s envisioning this as the first phase of a larger project to help change these visual stereotypes of yoga.
The idea is to do this first shoot in July, and then further on down the road, they might have me do more in Philly, and/or other cities, and/or work with other photographers, and/or solicit user-generated content from folks like you. Yes, they’ll probably be asking you to send them your yoga-selfies.
These images will be the first seeds of a stock library of diverse yoga images that will be freely accessible to the community (in the spirit of my Million-Picture-Giveaway); that way smaller yoga studios and individual teachers can have some more diverse images to promote their classes, and bloggers and individual practitioners will have some visual ammunition to help change perceptions around the accessibility of yoga. How does that sound?
It’s not quite all 100% official yet; an agreement like this is a good bit more complex than my average commercial or wedding contract, and we’re working out some last little details before we can square it all away. We’re trying to do a lot on a modest budget, and I’m trying to make sure that the way that it’s handled balances the larger corporate interests with those of the photographer(s) and subjects.
I’m telling you about it now because we’re hoping to make the first shoot happen July 17/18/19, so I need to get a list of interested & available participants ASAP. I’ve already been doing some outreach under the radar, but now I need your help to cast the net a bit wider.
Who would you like to see represented in this project?
Please have them sign up here.
I’d appreciate it if you could share this post via social media, but direct personal outreach will be most helpful, particularly in the coming week or two. If someone comes to mind, give them a call right now. We might also need a few extra hands to help run the event; if interested, let me know.
(Of course, if you want to share this with your favorite blogs or yoga publications etc, that would be lovely too)
If you just like to hear about the project as it evolves, make sure that you’re on my mailing list and that emails from @jjtiziou.net aren’t getting as spam or promotions. And of course there’s Facebook and Twitter.
July 17/18/19 at Drexel University
Much like the How Philly Moves photo sessions, I’ll be bringing a lot of beautiful folks together to be photographed in the same light. We’ll do a few small group classes, and also make images of individuals in their favorite poses. We’ll also do some exit interviews to gather some stories and impressions.
It should be pretty lovely. Please spread the word!
PS In case you missed it, here’s the gorgeous video by Ellen Reynolds from the last round of HPM photo sessions. Just imagine this w/ yoga instead of dance, and you get the idea.