when pictures fail me…
Maxine Henryson is a Goddess-chaser. With her camera and a passion for pursuing the Divine-As-Feminine, this Mississippi-born globe traveler captures a dreamlike world of chance encounters, where the extraordinary is made visible in the ordinary. Color and motion often blur, in spiritual sync with her intellectual and intuitive focusing skills. The results are on display in her current book on India, Ujjayi’s Journey. YogaCityNYC’s Sharon Watts sat down with Maxine to learn more.
Sharon Watts: You describe your recent book Ujjayi’s Journey as a visual poem, focusing on your search for the portrayal of the divine-as-feminine within India’s contemporary culture. Which came first: the premise or the actual journey?
Maxine Henryson : Before traveling to India I had done a project on the Black Madonna and had read Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna, by China Galland, which brought increased attention to the spiritual traditions of the Black Madonna and other cross-cultural expressions of the feminine divine. I had also done an artist residency at Yaddo, where the artist Buffie Johnson introduced me to her book Lady of the Beasts: The Goddess and Her Sacred Animals.
SW: You’ve made five trips to India between 1996 and 2008. Did any of these include yoga pilgrimages for this project?
MH: In 1997 I started in Mumbai and then went to Cochen and the south. I was very interested in the peaceful co-existence of Hindus, Moslems, Jews and Christians in Cochen.
I then traveled with another photographer in 2006 and visited the active Hindu temples in Tamil Nadu. We would spend most of each day in the temples, and my interest in the Hindu goddesses intensified. It took me three trips before I felt ready for Varanasi, the oldest and holiest city of India. In 2008 I travelled extensively on a seven-week trip with a yogi friend who is now an Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) renunciate, . We started out in Vrindavan (home of the Hari Krishnas, who were wonderful and introduced us to their rituals and traditions), on to Jaipur, where we attended the Global Peace Initiative of Women Summit: Making Way for the Feminine.
SW: Color and motion are two key elements in your work, yet a sense of spiritual calm also comes through. Was this intentional, or is this, simply, India?
MH: It is more my intent and vision rather than the particular culture. I am very interested in how we “all are One,” so similarities and differences between cultures fascinate me, particularly the feminine and spiritual aspects. The sociologist in me is still present. I was definitely interested in the spiritual aspect of India, and that is where my travels led me.
SW: How often do serendipity and intuition play roles in your photography?
MH: 100%! Once I see or sense a picture, I photograph from intuition. Placing myself in the right time and place and being in the flow or zone or whatever you want to call it is absolutely essential. Most of the calculation in my process relates to where I choose to photograph. I am interested in places that have a layered energy of the spiritual, mystical, political, and inexplicable. Photographing for me is a meditative process. I am attempting to create imaginary worlds, as if seen from inside a dream or from that quiet place your mind reaches while in nature or practicing yoga. My photographs often do not represent actual visual reality, yet there is no doubt that they are representing something real.
SW: What is next for you, after Ujjayi’s Journey?
MH: I am in the midst of make the first proof prints of my next project. Too early to make too many comments except to say that I have been photographing intensely in Germany and Italy. They are both cultures with a tradition of high art and fascism so we will see how it unfolds.