For a while now I’ve been thinking about what I want to do photographically as an artist. I have been moving towards shooting film more and more as a way of renouncing the need for perfection. I know that I’ll never be perfect in several different dimensions, and that no one is perfect. I talk to a lot of women about doing their photos and, with only one or two exceptions, they demur because they think they aren’t photo worthy. At the root, it’s because they don’t look like the models and celebrities in the magazines. This is troubling because even the models and celebrities don’t look like their photos. The photos are routinely passed through photoshop to have years of wrinkles removed, pores pored over, limbs lengthened and thinned, waistlines shrunk, bulges disappeared and on and on. The images in the magazines have an underlying theme that the viewers will never be that beautiful, unless maybe they buy the creams and potions that the magazines have sold ad space too. The advent of photoshop leads to the expectation that all blemishes will be removed and that, somehow, a portrait isn’t done until all sense of reality is distorted. No wonder body dysmorphia is so common!
This weekend I had a chance to do some photos with Diana of her doing her yoga routine. Diana is a runner/athlete who has done several marathons and half marathons and is now in training for an upcoming Half Iron Man competition. In addition she is a Yoga instructor. This is all on top of raising a houseful of kids and balancing a job and relationship. She is a driven woman.
Diana is incredibly fit as you can imagine. When we talked about doing some photos of her I wanted to catch her being real. You don’t get fit like she is by sitting on the couch. She pushes herself hard to be competitive, and she does yoga for the centering it gives her. That’s hard work too. She teaches yoga so that others may experience the peace it gives. I wanted to strip away all the distractions so I shot her with the idea to do the photos in black and white. I wanted that for several reasons. The color in photos add distractions. Yoga is about stripping away distractions. I also wanted to have a more Life magazine gritty realism to them. I didn’t want “pretty” photos, I wanted “real”. I used the window light and pushed the sensitivity of the camera to get usable photos without distracting flash or light sources. Pushing the sensitivity involves a technical trade off in that it gives slightly noisier (less perfect) images, but, that’s the look I wanted anyways.
I decided that once she started her workout I’d try not to distract her by talking, and to just let her work through her workout. I responded when she talked but didn’t start anything. I wanted her to feel like she was doing it alone, to the extent that was possible. I added some grain to the photos to make them kind of timeless and to more closely emulate film.
We were going to use another space, but, the chance came up to use the space in the Yoga studio she teaches at, Transcend Wellness and Yoga, so we took it!
I suspected Yoga practitioners are as concerned with exact position as the ballet dancers I’ve shot. It turns out I was pretty close to right on that. Diana told me after the shoot and seeing some of the photos that once she got past the imperfections in her form (which were invisible to me!) , she enjoyed the photos for how they brought her back to the things she was thinking and how she was breathing in each position. I felt like I had nailed what I wanted. I got real photos. Intense photos.
I did these photos digitally because I wanted to be sure I could deliver some photos and that her efforts weren’t in vain. I was also in a hurry, but I did do some film that’ll be back in a few weeks. We’ll see how they came out too!
It won’t surprise me to hear some (especially Diana!) say “this wasn’t right” or “that could have been straighter” but for me, what I saw was someone working hard to perfect their technique, knowing that she might never reach it from choices she’s made , but, accepting the benefits and being humble enough to keep pushing forward anyway. When she stumbled or fell out, she just went back to it until she got what she wanted.
Thank you Diana for sharing this with me, warts and all. Especially the warts. It’s brave to show the unvarnished truth.