“What sets Michael O’Neill’s photographs apart from so many others is that they aren’t simply magnificent pictures of people performing postures. They are windows into yoga. If we delve into the viewing [his] book with the same reverence with which we open the door to a temple or cathedral, with all three of our eyes open – our two physical eyes and also our inner eye – we will see not just strikingly beautiful images but also true yoga.” – H. H. Swami Chidanand Saraswatji
Michael O’Neill, On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace is an ode to O’Neill’s journey to discover the underpinnings of the practice and discipline of yoga. O’Neill spent ten years photographing the masters and gurus of yoga, meditating with monks in the Tibetan Plateau, living with sadhus in their tents at the Kumbh Mela, and marveling at the boys who practice the little known discipline of Mallakhamba at the wrestling grounds in Kochi, India. His portraits reveal the essence of yoga, what O’Neill calls, “the architecture of peace… a series of postures that bring the practitioner closer to touching the infinite.”
The exhibition documents an important, transitional moment in the history of yoga, as some of its great masters pass away, and a new generation takes their place. The Sanscrit word for yoga means “union,” and that is precisely what O’ Neill’s portraits convey. As he says, “A portrait is always an agreement, … An agreement is established in one form or another on whatever wavelength to work together and share the process and the same goal of making a great picture.” O’Neill’s subjects invite him in, but on their own terms. Portraits such as Durvasasana, 2010, unite photographer and subject as one, a visual and spiritual dissolution of boundaries. O’Neill’s photograph of Christy Turlington, reveals the inner strength and composure the former model has attained through yoga. Etherton Gallery’s exhibition also includes portraits of influential yogis such as Rodney Yee, and now deceased teachers, B.K.S. Iyengar and Shri K. Pattabhi Jois. The result is a powerful tribute to this ancient discipline, now a global phenomenon, with over 250 million practitioners united in physical, spiritual, and mindful practice worldwide.
Michael O’Neill (b.1946-) has photographed the cultural icons of our time, from Andy Warhol to the Dalai Lama for nearly 50 years for publications including the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair. He has had solo shows of his work at Visa pour l’Image (Perpignan, France), II Mes Internacional da Fotografia (São Paulo, Brazil), and Houk Friedman Gallery (New York). His photographs reside in the permanent collections of the Walker Art Center among other arts institutions, as well as private and corporate collections. For ten years he immersed himself in the culture of yoga, turning his lens on the origins and essence of this ancient and timeless spiritual practice.
Excerpts from Michael O’Neill, Eddie Stern and H. H. Swami Chidanand Saraswatji from On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace, 2015/2021(Taschen) © Michael O’Neill
Michael O’Neill, On Yoga : The Architecture of Peace
Until February 5, 2022
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