Robert Sturman’s images are some of the most iconic in the yoga community. He travels the world photographing a range of subjects from renowned teachers to cancer survivors to tribes in Africa. This inspiring artist is a dear friend of mine and one of the sweetest and most passionate people I’ve ever met. Take a moment to get to know the man behind the lens and what stokes Robert’s inspiration.
Kathryn Budig: You and me—we go way back. You first shot me in a tree (of all places) during your Polaroid phase, and we went on to create dozens of images together. I even have a framed Ashi Budig (my dog) Robert Sturman in my home! Tell us a bit about your background.
Robert Sturman: Yes, you were one of my first subjects, and let’s not forget that you helped me produce the entire Polaroid series by sending devoted yogis my way when I first began focusing on yoga. My background is in painting, drawing and photography. I fell in love with the arts when I was in High School and my father gave me my first camera. When I asked him what I was supposed to take pictures of, his response was, "anything that you love." That really has proven to be one of the more significant pieces of advice I have ever received in my training as an artist.
KB: That sentiment comes through clearly in your work. What essence are you trying to capture in your images? What is it beyond the physical asana that inspires you?
RS: I think it is a love for life that I am after. My inspiration is fueled by a desire to celebrate life, to point towards possibility, and in the best way I can, enrich the soul of humanity. The asanas are so expressive of the human heart and spirit—that sincere longing to become more, to reach further, to open more and connect with the unknown. Simply put, yoga is a gorgeous figurative, poetic expression. And, as an artist, the asanas help me to tell our story.
KB: You’ve shot a huge spectrum of people from some of the most iconic yoga figures to prisoners. Can you share an experience that totally rocked your world and the lesson you learned from it?
RS: There are quite a few, but a recent event moved me deeply. I was shooting in Manhattan a few months ago and an extraordinary story presented itself. I had no idea Erica Garcia was a 911 survivor who hadn’t been back since when I told her we would meet near the tower. When she arrived to meet me, she immediately told me that it was very hard for her to show up that morning and she explained why. I knew in that moment that beyond any art that is created, the foundation is always respect and humanity. We walked the streets and began a friendship. We circled the outskirts creating images that celebrated her practice, and I could tell she wanted to go deeper in. At a corner, I looked at her and told her that I was with her and willing to go anywhere she wanted to go. Tears welled up in our eyes. We then proceeded to walk towards Trinity Park Cemetery in the heart of it all, where we created an image of Erica offering up a proud Dancer with the new World Trade Center in the background. It felt so real. Photographs have a magical power to heal us—to reflect something profound back to us. I have seen images help people reclaim their dignity, from cancer survivors to burn victims to prisoners to you and me who light up when we are seen. I think that's what's really going on here.
KB: I hear you’re leading workshops on how to improve your eye for yoga photography. Can you share a few tips on how to getting started?
RS: The most important thing is really to love what you are seeing. That is not much of a challenge with asana, as it is so easy on the eyes. One of the main things I tell people who want to create more powerful pictures is to get low so that you are looking up at the pose. This gives a sense of importance to the figure, as if they are a powerful sculpture. I also recommend keeping the background clear of too much busyness and trying to see each limb on it’s own. The sky is a great background for asana. If people really want to go deeper, they can download the workshop here.