June 8, 2012

No Pretzels for Pure Souls: A Different Twist on Yoga Photography.


Josie and Ian, Pure Soul's photographers

The buzzing yoga community of Vancouver fosters a lot of talent: the high-spirited photographers of Pure Souls are the new addition to celebrate.

Over the last couple of years, Pure Souls have been capturing the community’s imagination and have altered the city visual landscape with their original take on yoga photography.

The yoga community in Vancouver is one of the most active there is in the Western world.

Semperviva Yoga is the heart and soul of this one-of-a-kind Canadian yoga community, and they have hugely contributed to the yoga mania in Vancouver.

They bring to town the most prominent yoga figures: Seane CornMichael Stone, Max Strom, Janet Stone, Sarah Powers, Shiva Rea, and many more. The masters’ teachings brew in the mind of the local teachers who diffuse them back into the community, keeping it constantly pregnant with fresh knowledge.

Gloria Latham who created Semperviva has nurtured a lot of talented yogis over last 17 years. The young and passionate photographers at Pure Souls are among her many fantastic protégés.

“We shoot from the heart.”

This has become their motto. There is indeed a whole lot of love involved in the happy development of their photographic and personal life. The couple met seven years ago when they both worked in a medical company. Josie, who had moved to Canada with her family from Hong Kong when she was 12, worked in marketing and Ian, a Vancouverite, was a respiratory therapist. They fell in love and started traveling around the world, taking holiday snapshots.

When they came back, their hobby quickly turned into a job as they stepped foot into the wedding photography world. Another passion came to prominence with yoga when Josie did her yoga teacher training and they started photographing and filming yoga with the support and encouragements of Gloria.

Josie and Ian have the knack of encapsulating the essence of each yogi who poses for them. They are as close to their subjects as photographers can be, and reveal their souls with light and color and sometimes in black and white.

They bring a fresh vision by dodging the pitfalls of yoga clichés and demonstrating that there is no need for pretzel poses to make yoga look good. Through their ability to make individuality shine, they pay tribute to the almost infinite diversity that their community has to offer.

Recently, they have been involved in charity work helping promoting Karma Teachers, a studio bringing free yoga to the  growing population of homeless in the East Hastings neighborhood.

I’ve asked them to describe their yoga community and their work, and they have responded with an eloquence that mirrors the elegance of their pictures.

How could you describe the yoga community in Vancouver?

Vancouver’s yoga community is vibrant, eclectic and very diverse.

Yoga has become so popular that the studios can start to cater to particular demographics. It’s evolved from the single discipline yoga studios to multidisciplinary. There are also upscale ones who offer spa-like amenities. We’ve even had comedians joke about the amount of yoga studios here (more than Starbucks!).

It has become normal to me to see yoga studios in every neighborhood in Vancouver.  We have a wonderful selection of supportive business such as vegetarian restaurants and bookstores that cater to the holistic side of things.

Yoga studios are packed here in the winter because it’s a great way to escape our damp and cold weather. People tend to hibernate and lose contact with each others. But once they step into the studio, they get back in touch with the love and connection of being part of a larger community. It’s vital to surviving our grey months.

What’s your history with yoga? Do you practice? What kind?

Josie: I have been practicing yoga over the last 10 years. A couple of years ago, I came up with the inspiration to start photographing yoga after Savasana (corpse pose). I practice all kinds of yoga, but Kundalini will always have a special place in my heart. I have done my 200 hours YTT in 2008, and since have done further training in Kundalini, Yin yoga and Kids Yoga Teacher trainings. I have studied with Mark Strom, Gurmukh, Shiva Rea, Janet Stone, Rolf Gates and local teachers who inspire me; Gloria Latham and Bernie Clark. I am also teaching Kundalini yoga at Karma Teachers.

Ian: My practice was on and off for five years until we traveled to India in 2010 and I spoke to a male yoga teacher who pointed out that  irregular practice was “just enough to make it difficult.” We can tell when we haven’t done enough yoga because we won’t be as relaxed and patient. It can also be the only excuse that will get us away from the computer on really busy days when we’re editing.

What makes photographing yoga so special?

Ian: I love working with yogis because they’re fun people to be around. After practicing yoga, they are relaxed and in touch with themselves and their surroundings. It makes it easier to communicate with them and find out what they’re envisioning for their photos.

Josie: It’s a combination of passions for me. Also, the human body is graceful and to watch each yogi express their own version of the posture in harmony with the environment is captivating. It makes me want to take out my camera and share it.

What I like about your pictures is that you don’t exploit the photogenic grace of yoga? How did you decide to avoid this cliché?

Josie: Because we understand that you’re only seeing half of the picture if the focus is on the photogenic grace of the pose. You have to capture the feeling of the pose and how that balances with the surroundings. After flowing through a sequence and taking the time to pay attention to your breathing and the emotions that are rising up, you can’t help but be more open to your environment and to those around you. That’s the most important thing to capture for us. Our philosophy is similar to the teachings of the practice, you need strength to hold the pose but there’s also a feeling of softness. Even though a lot of effort is at stake, a certain ease emanates from an advanced practitioner. That’s what really makes the pose shine anything else is just acrobatics.

You like to capture the (pure) souls of the wonderful yogis you photograph. How do you manage to make this come through?

Ian: We shoot from the heart! It’s all about the essence of the posture and the emotions it brings out.

Josie: It also comes from us having a solid yoga practice. It’s not only about knowing the technical points of the pose; my Yoga Teacher Training background however allows me to make a few adjustments before the photo is snapped. Because we’ve experienced the pose, we’re able to connect and help interpret what the yogi is trying to evoke.

Could you describe one of your most memorable yoga photo shoots?

Ian: Trevor‘s shoot was really different for us. His concept is to bring punk music into his Kundalini yoga practice. Lately, we’ve been seeing a rise in Kundalini yoga with playlists inspired by the teachers favorite music. It was so much fun because punk music is probably the last type of music you’d expect to hear in a yoga studio. Photographically this opens up to a whole lot more possibilities and we can have more fun exploring the juxtaposition of the wild unchanneled energy of punk rock with the calm, focused energy of yoga.

Favorite yoga asana?

Josie: Savasana! That’s when I get the best ideas.

Ian: Savasana as well because it can tell me if I’ve been really present in my practice. To photograph however, it would be Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (one legged king pigeon) because of the lines and the positive and negative spaces that it creates. It allows for some very cool angles and framing. Also because it’s a heart opener, the viewer can feel uplifted and connected with the model.

Finally, any ongoing project you would like to share with us?

Ian: We are heavily involved in a relatively new project (started 2011) called Karma Teachers.

Josie: We got involved in the project because we felt it was time to give back to the community. We’d like for people to take their practice further from just wearing Lululemon and attending their classes, and to reach out and help others. In Vancouver, yoga is very popular but there is a certain image and lifestyle attached with it (especially with the new yoga/spas opening up) and that stereotype is making it less accessible to the lower income people who live in the downtown East side. In our eyes, they’re the people who could benefit from it the most.

Ian: So Karma teachers is about creating a sustainable charity that would ultimately bring yoga to one of the poorest postal codes in Canada with the highest HIV prevalence in the western world (taken from the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS).

We have lots of creative art projects in mind for Karma Teachers and you will just have to wait and see what’s in store!



Editor: Brianna Bemel

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