I have generally been staying out of the elements during this extended Minnesota spring. However, one week ago the sun returned to the north country, warming us all, and Minneapolis took to the streets to welcome the change of seasons. The annual May Day Parade to Powderhorn Park found me in my element, shooting freely with the Black Label Bike Club and friends…here are a few of my favorites from the glorious day.
Illuminated in the warm afternoon sun, the man responsible for sharing the light of yoga with probably more human beings than any other, radiantly sat before me. Entering his 95th year, B.K.S. Iyengar welcomed me in for a conversation at Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, his yoga school in Pune, India, named in his late wife’s honor.
Guruji, as his students affectionately call him, listened briefly to my explanation for being there, this photographic exploration of yoga, and then launched into an articulate, studious and inspired lesson on yoga. He answered none of my questions and all of them. Quoting freely from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Guruji pointed out relevant passages, which I read aloud as the room slowly filled with students that gathered around me. It was a privilege to hear this brilliant man speak of the subject closest to his heart.
He commented on the Sutras with authority as I looked into his expressive eyes, explaining nuances of meaning. The essence of his message was that yoga is a progressive subject. First we must work with the concrete…and discipline the body and mind, through regular asana practice with awareness. “Asanas are to interpenetrate, not as physical exercise. Have I touched my mind? Have I touched my intelligence? Have I touched my ego? Have I touched my self? This is Sadhana”, he told me. “So that is why I go deep, and that is why I enjoy it”, he said with an assuring laugh. Then, and only then, will we be fit for the abstract, subtle work of yoga.
As our conversation progressed, he continued, “You know what yoga has given me, I can tell you. At the age of 95, I’m still a fresh mind. It’s not a nagging mind. It’s not a nagging body. That’s enough for me. And, whether emancipation comes from that is immaterial…So I want everybody to have that fresh mind, that fresh way of thinking, freshness in them, moment to moment. And that is life. And to experience that fresh life, the methodology is only yoga.”
Geoffrey Hiller of Verve Photo recently featured an image from the “Oro Win” series…for the story, please take a look here.
On a recent summer evening, I got together to chat with fellow Minnesota-based photographer Joey Tichenor…this interview followed our rendezvous and is now live on his blog “Visions from the Heartland”. Below is the introduction to our interview…thank you Joey for the kind words…
The entire blog post and interview: http://visionsfromtheheartland.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/andy-richter-follow-your-heart-your-camera-will-catch-up/
Sun and warmth have brought forth new life here in Minneapolis…I’ve been enjoying the transition to summer and traveling on assignment with UNICEF in Mexico of late. As a matter of fact, work with NGOs and non-profits is one of my favorite realms in which I operate as a photographer. During this recent project in Mexico City, which was commissioned by UNICEF UK, the wonderful staff from UNICEF Mexico furnished me with some of the new printed materials they designed with my work since the last trip down. Here’s a sampling from the 2012 calendar, as well as the cover of the book they recently published…all photographs were created in Oaxaca and Chiapas…
Upon covering my head and washing my feet, I stepped through the threshold and was overcome by peace. There was a tranquility and reverence in the air, as the voices of priests resonated in Punjabi in waves from the loudspeaker. For Sikhs, the Golden Temple is the holiest place on Earth. Devout pilgrims arrive from all over the globe to bathe in the sacred waters of the “Pool of Nectar”, meditate on the parkarma, and prostrate in prayer while chanting mantras.
The white marble parkarma forms a walkway around the holy pool of water, Amrit Sarovar, in which the actual temple, Hari Mandir Sahib, rests at the center. The dome of the temple is said to be gilded with 750 kilograms gold. While the ornate architecture and décor are quite impressive, it appeared that something deeper was drawing the masses. Perhaps it was their hunger…on a number of levels.
All Sikh temples have Langar or free food, and the Golden Temple is no exception, preparing over 50,000 meals daily, often double that number during festivities. At all hours of the day, one can enjoy a meal of lentils, kheer, and chipati or cup of sweet hot tea. As I ate the nourishing and simple food with hundreds of others, sitting on the floor in rows, all equal, there was a very real sense of sharing, inclusiveness, and community.
As intended, everyone, irrespective of cast, creed or race is offered a place to seek spiritual solace and religious fulfillment…
Bhakti yoga is devotional service to God, free of sense gratification or philosophical speculation. In Vrindavan, the heart of bhakti, I encountered a myriad of ways this devotion to Krishna manifests. The essence of the practice is to learn to love God, and in turn, learn to love everything and everyone in the proper way.
To experience bhakti, I found myself drawn to the ISKCON temple, home of the Krishna consciousness movement. In this magnificent white marble structure, the Hare Krishna mantra has been sung by devotees in kirtan 24-hours-a-day, since 1986. With adoration and great love, and frequently tears of joy in their eyes, devotees shower flowers upon statues of the deities (Krishna and Radha) and of bhakti master and the founder of Krishna consciousness, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. This outpouring of love, in the form offerings, dance and song create an otherworldly vibration.
Satyagopal Das, in the fourth photograph below, is a truly devoted servant of Krishna. For two years, the 24-year-old has been working his way around the 21-kilometer Govardhan Parikrama. His route is a popular circumambulation of Govardhana Hill, often walked in a single day by devotees. The stone outcrop is believed to be manifest from Krishna’s heart, where he tended his cows and had his loving rendezvous with Radharani.
But Satyagopal isn’t simply walking around the sacred hill; he has been prostrating himself on the ground in devotion the entire distance. With each prostration, he places a stone at his outstretched arm’s length while chanting the Hare Krishna mantra…and he has 108 stones, a very auspicious number. So it goes something like this: pick up a stone, prostrate while chanting the mantra, place stone at arms reach while laying on stomach, get up with new stone from feet, prostrate, chant, place in pile, pick up…108 times. Then, he steps forward to the pile of stones at his feet and begins anew. And he does this again…and again…and again…
It takes him about 25 minutes to move the 108 stones from his feet to his outstretched arms while chanting the mantra…and actually, he is quite fast. He told me he has about another year and a half to go…
Devotion comes in many forms
In the foothills of the Himalaya, on the banks of the holy Ganga river, the journey into yoga continues…
“The secrets of the ancient science of yoga were passed down from the divine rishis, saints and sages who came to the Himalayas for divine inspiration. Through their meditation, austerities and prayers, a treasure-chest of wisdom was bestowed upon them for the benefit of humanity. The sage Patanjali is the one most renowned for compiling this treasure chest of yogic wisdom for the benefit of the world. Yoga is not about physical postures, it is much more…Yoga is not a religion. It does not require you to believe in a certain God or to chant certain mantras. Yoga is an ancient science which leads to health in the body, peace in the mind, joy in the heart and liberation of the soul. Yoga is a way of life, and it’s teachings should penetrate every aspect of your being…”
-Pujya Swamiji, saint and spiritual leader, head of Parmarth Niketan ashram (below, speaking in his garden during darshan)
Since arriving to India, life has been yoga. Total and complete union. Recently, yogacharayas (teachers) and students from 31 countries came together in Rishikesh for an energy filled week at the International Yoga Festival hosted by Parmarth Niketan. The classes were truly insightful and inspired, as were the lectures on yogic philosophy, consciousness, living yoga 24 hours a day, and the research-based benefits of authentic yoga. A perfect place to begin…4 or 5 classes a day, learning, listening, and making connections for the photography that is to come.
We begin with the purifying ritual of Havan…
Stay tuned for “Bhakti”…now being created in Vrindavan. The light is beginning to get good…time to go shoot.
Hand Eye Magazine’s latest issue features some of my work from Salvador, Brazil, which explores Candomblé, a vibrant Afro-Brazilian form of spirituality. Argentinian travel writer Ana Schlimovich, based in Rio de Janeiro, wrote the article “White Magic”. She begins, “In Brazil’s syncretic, spiritual, ecstatic Candomblé religion, white lifts the spirit. And the spirits.”