The “This Is What a Yogi Looks Like” series is a collaboration between the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and Yoga International based on the YBIC campaign and their continued work in challenging stereotypes, growing community, working collaboratively, and highlighting the diversity of yoga practitioners and yoga practices.
I think it’s only fitting to wrap up the first #whatayogilookslike series at Yoga International by spotlighting Sarit Z. Rogers of Sarit Photography, the photographer for this series and the woman I have collaborated with on multiple related projects in recent years. Too often the person behind the camera is obscured by the images they create—the subjects in front of their lens, the stories the images convey, and feelings that are evoked by their art. And, in this case, I think it’s equally important to talk about Sarit, the person behind the lens, as it is to celebrate the images that she has produced.
When I was initially inspired to create the #whatayogilookslike media series and fund-raising campaign in the summer of 2014, I knew it was crucial to work with a photographer who really got my vision—to showcase the authenticity and diversity of yoga practitioners and their unique relationships with their own yoga practices, practices that in and of themselves are highly unique and diversified. I wanted to steer clear of idyllic backdrops, “perfectly” aligned postures, sponsored yoga wardrobes, on-set makeup artists and hairstylists, as well as the tendency to use filters and heavy digital alteration. I also wanted to make sure every person photographed felt comfortable, respected, and honored.
I knew there was no other choice but to work with Sarit. And I think Sarit’s background as an activist, her dedication to social justice, and her commitment to body positivity and diversity as a body image advocate complete the larger message this series as a whole is attempting to share—a message of inclusion, equity, diversity, and community.
MK: Sarit, I’ve known you for almost seven years now, and you’ve been taking compelling photographs the entire time. Can you describe your relationship with photography as well as how the focus of your work, including your subject matter, has evolved?
SR: For me, photography is a visual form of poetry. For a time, I would use film as a means of bringing lines of my poetry to life. Instead of drawing shoot schematics, I paint my photographic concepts in words. I’ve always been disinterested in typical fashion photography because I felt limited by the constructs of mainstream media. My focus has always been on realistic portraiture and musicians and landscapes. I have been a singer for most of my life, and photographing musicians felt like I was stoking that inner fire, as they represent a lyrical expression of the heart. I later started doing pinup photography with the intention of raising body image awareness through a traditional pinup style. However, my desire to shift the negative body image paradigm I saw in mainstream photography was not satisfied in the pinup world. It was the wrong place for me, though shooting like that was fun. I didn’t start paying attention to yoga photography until I found myself immersed in the yoga world. It was unsettling to see how similar everyone looked; how white, thin, fair, and flexible most were in their likeness but how dissimilar the images were in contrast to the yogis I practiced with.
MK: Can you tell us more about your experiences in the world of professional photography?
SR: It’s been an interesting path, coming into the photography industry as a woman (and a woman with an opinion at that!) nearly a decade ago. The photography business has always been predominantly male. Nevertheless, I have always celebrated and looked up to the women that came before me: Ruth Bernhard, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, and so many more.
While there are many talented female photographers, they aren’t always provided the same opportunities as men, or recognition is coupled with descriptive modifiers indicating “for a woman.” (Unless you’re Annie Liebowitz! But even she gets a negative rub.) Motherhood, a lack of financial freedom, and/or family commitments tends to hinder wanderlust; photography is definitely a career with a bend toward being single and able to fly free. That said, I love being this woman behind the lens, because I have an opportunity to present a female perspective in a world ultimately defined by the male gaze.
We often find ourselves under the microscope, directed, judged, and not seen in our entirety, but rather, graded by the shape or size of our respective parts. Human beings are so much more than that! And the practice of yoga is so much more than the asana, or the bend of the spine, or the size of the ass.
MK: As a photographer committed to raising body image awareness and shifting the “negative body image paradigm,” what is your intention or approach when photographing individuals?
SR: Photography is inherently objectifying. We’re asked to pose in front of something pointing at us while being directed—it’s a vulnerable experience! There’s no surprise to me when someone tells me about the fear or concern they may have about being photographed. My intention is to create a bridge between my subject and myself in order to develop conversation and collaboration. So when I photograph someone, my intention is to create a safe space devoid of objectification so the shoulders naturally soften, the tightness in the jaw softens, and the heart opens. That takes time for some, and happens in a flash with others.
I don’t want to capture the “breath”; I want to create art and capture the result of the breath and to inspire unadulterated joy and a sense of self-ownership—I don’t believe we need hyper-real imagery to “increase” our value!
I seek to capture the light in the eyes; that’s where the magic is.
MK: And that’s exactly why I love teaming up with you. You recognize the unique magic in each individual and you’re not looking for anyone to fit into any specific mold. You hold no assumptions. You’re looking for the same things that I admire most—authenticity and individuality. In a world full of corporate sponsors, shareholders, advertisers with sights set on sales, and one-dimensional and homogeneous media representations, I crave authenticity in the images I see.
I know your meditation and yoga practice impact your approach to photography. Can you talk more about that?
SR: For me, photography demands still observation: It necessitates waiting for the exhale of my subject, simultaneously getting grounded before I click the shutter, and collaborating via conversation and attunement. We are in this mess together, making art and dancing with the light.
MK: How did you move from primarily shooting musicians and doing feminist pinup work to shooting yogis?
SR: It started with [the book] 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics & Practice and your recommendation to Carol Horton and Roseanne Harvey to have me capture the cover image! I know there was a lot of back and forth before I got involved because there weren’t stock images that conveyed the diversity and body politics being addressed in the book. This was an opportunity for me to take my clear body image advocacy to break the barriers in the yoga world, where the body is often the primary focus. Things expanded from there and I went on to shoot the cover of Yoga PhD: Integrating the Life of the Mind & Wisdom of the Body and then Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body. It is deeply satisfying to combine a practice, which is my lifeline, and my art, which is in my blood.
MK: Describe the work you’re doing in the yoga community right now as well as any upcoming projects.
SR: I am currently teaching trauma-sensitive yoga in Juvenile Hall with UpRising Yoga, at City High School, and The City School. I’m building my private yoga teaching business and, of course, plugging away to create compelling imagery. I dig into new experiences like an archaeologist investigating a site: with urgent curiosity and excitement. I am humbled to practice among so many inspiring souls and to be a part of such deep community.
In 2013, my husband and I co-created the LoveMore Movement, an organization that celebrates others and the “shadow” work they do in communities that are often overlooked. I have photographed almost 30 individuals and am collecting interviews so I can eventually publish a LoveMore book. We donate 20 percent of everything we sell (we have some pretty fabulous tees!) to a different organization each month. In November, we chose the Black Women’s Health Project and will continue to donate to them in December. You can find us at www.lovemoremovement.com.
Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker, and Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Santa Monica College. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty,... Read more>>