when pictures fail me…
You might have seen this man on the sidewalk with a camera, aiming his lens at a young woman in a red chiffon dress in forearm stance over a subway grate, or a white-haired man in a suit performing side crow in the middle of an intersection, or read about him in The New York Times and other publications.
This spontaneous alchemy of art is what erupts when Robert Sturman goes off to take pictures. And right now he is rising in the public consciousness like a colorful hot air balloon fueled by humility, talent, and the joy of interacting with people.
But today, the yoga practitioner/photographer is sharing his knowledge in a workshop: Mastering the Art of Yoga Photography at Sacred Sounds Yoga where fourteen people have gathered to learn how to capture the beauty of wonderful yogic moments.
“The best way to learn is to just grab your camera (or iPhone) and go do it.” What at first appears to be appropriately laid-back advice from the tanned, bearded, surfer-looking-dude who grew up in Santa Monica, ends up being a rallying cry to break rules and follow our intuition. Luckily he includes practical pointers for capturing the moment that best expresses the pose.
I look around the studio space and take in the gamut of modern photography equipment accessorizing the yoga practitioners who have signed up. Nikons and Canons and smartphones–all digital, of course. Modern technology is being paired up with an ancient practice, and I might be the only person in the room who recalls the days of 35 millimeter.
Bellies are far more important than tripods and f-stops and focal points, as Sturman constantly tells us to“Get low.” There are several reasons for wriggling around in variations of cobra pose-with-camera in order to get the perfect shot. Having as much sky or background surrounding the body, and as low a horizon line as possible not only depicts the nuance and difficulty of the pose, but also serves to elevate the subject, giving a larger than life effect. We alternately click and pose for each other: some of us shy and wanting direction, others theatrically claiming the spotlight with ease. Sturman enthuses about each and every pose, as we hit the ground snapping.
“Like what you’re seeing. Trust your intuition.” I love this advice, but still, aren’t there more tips on how to best capture a pose where limbs are often aligned to flummox the parameters of visual common sense? Peppered into the general go-with-the-flow coaching are practical directives to be aware of negative space and body architecture. Try not to block the face. Shift to change composition. Don’t tire out the model; it only takes one click to make a pose seem suspended forever. There are no set rules of which angle to use for which pose, so experiment! Last but not least, it doesn’t matter what kind of camera you use, or how technically proficient you are.
One woman in a long flowing skirt chooses pigeon pose. Sturman resumes his mantra of giving the model permission to be herself while adjusting the hem so that the crossed foot is exposed. “Enjoy the pose,” he says. In a symmetrical pose such as lotus, he points out the need to see both feet. In warrior one, where the face might be blocked, he encourages a bit of leeway with the technical aspects of the pose, so that the beauty of the face is visible. The best photographs document the sincerity, be it bliss or struggle.
In Sturman’s own portfolio it is evident that his artistic passion fully extends to the model, coaxing personal poetic expression more than perfect form. From the Barbie-doll beaches of Malibu to the prisons of San Quentin, from Kenya to the canyons of Wall Street, Sturman is a yoga ambassador, finding ways to honor his subjects and celebrate their practice, no matter who they are. “The poses are sincere moments–like little prayers.”
Next we exit the studio onto Bleecker Street. “Which way is Washington Square?” he asks us, then becomes our Pied Piper as we approach the fountain teeming with locals on a sizzling-hot day. Two of us are brave enough to wade in and assume an extended mountain pose, while the rest of us click away, emboldened by our new knowledge as well as by the brazen NYC plein air surroundings. Which reinforces another tenet of Robert Sturman’s wise philosophy: “Real art is getting along, making people feel comfortable expressing themselves.”
The yoga of photography is that when it just feels right, it will be a masterpiece.