The candle in the darkness image is sooo cliched, right? But that's why I love blogging - a quick internet search, and voila - I found an image that I truly like. It's from the blog, Maggie's Photography, in the post titled, "Weekly Photo Challenge: Light."
Which feels like another small serendipity, as this random image search just brought together the key themes of this day: the week, photography, challenge, light . . .
Concretely, our power went out for the entire evening earlier this week. We hauled out every flashlight and candle we had to get by until bedtime. Most of the flashlights were broken. So we relied on the candles.
They cast off a surprising amount of light. And they captivated us, one by one. I found myself transfixed by the row of flames on my dresser, which arrested me and made me feel how deeply different it was to live in synch with the dark, with only these small flames for illumination. Later, my son, who was doing his homework by candlelight, remarked that he had just realized how much he likes candles. Coming from a kid who's passionate about xBox, skateboarding, urban culture, and electronics, this was notable . . .
But I think we all recognized that unexpectedly finding the house lit up by candles and blowing them out early to go to sleep in the dark . . . and really noticing the darkness of the dark - felt quietly wonderful.
Yoga Modern post on "women in yoga." It's of a very thin, very young looking woman posing (incongruously) in a lush bed of brightly colored hair scrunchies - you know, those hairband-covered-with-fabric things that were popular at some point in the not too dimly distant past. (You'll have to click through to check it out - I'm not reposting it here. Instead, that's Susan Sontag, above. But more on that later.)
Anyway, so the model in this photo has multiple rings of these scrunchies on her ankles and hair too. Other than that, she's wearing only a skimpy black leotard. She's staring into the camera, looking a little come hither, and a little - whatever. She seems casually but defiantly comfortable with the playful absurdity of the shot. But because she seems so young, and unapologetically sexual, there's also something discomforting about it - it just doesn't seem quite right.
Or so I thought. A surprising (to me) number of people who commented on the post were simply offended by it instead. I hadn't anticipated the intensity of this reaction - the photo was not central to the content, really. But it was meant to reignite some of the same conflicting emotions that images of women in yoga can stir up more generally (at least when they start to be critically interrogated. Many people get really uncomfortable with that, and remarkably quickly.) I wanted to capture some of these warring emotions in one image, rather than juxtapose a "good" photo against a "bad" one (which is what one reader urged me to do instead).
But my intended strategy backfired a bit, as it became a distraction from my written content. But then again, maybe that was the lesson to be learned here: that the ideas I laid out in words couldn't necessarily compete (or hold a candle to, ha ha) the emotions ignited by a provocative image.
It's yet another testimony to the power of the photographic image. Which can be so potent, it's hard to step out of the emotional force field it generates.
So I started thinking about photography, and the ubiquity of these images in our culture today. I wanted to read the words of someone who had thought into this phenomenon long and well, which of course brought to mind Susan Sontag (pictured above). I realized then that we don't own a copy of On Photography, which seemed like enough of a lamentable lack in the holdings of our home library to justify spending $10 to order a copy - so I did.
I also became curious to revisit what Mark Singleton had written about the importance of photography in the creation of modern yoga. I didn't have time to reread the chapter that deals with this (8). But I did skim through to find this quote, which I like very much - there's a lot packed in here, and I think it's charming in its off-handed brilliance (like Mark himself, who I loved being able to meet this summer in Toronto . . . ):
Today, the yoga body has become the centerpiece of a transnational tableau of personalized well-being and quotidian redemption, relentlessly embellished on the pages of glossy publications like Yoga Journal. The locus of yoga is no longer at the center of an invisible ground of being, hidden from the gaze of all but the elite initiate or the mystic; instead, the lucent skin of the yoga model becomes the ubiquitous signifier of spiritual possibility, the specular projection screen of characteristically modern and democratic religious aspirations. In the yoga body - sold back to a million consumer-practitioners as an irresistible commodity of the holistic, perfectible self - surface and anatomical structure promise ineffable depth and the dream of incarnate transcendence.Well . . . unpack that, and it's sort of like - ok, ouch (at least, perhaps, for us more committed yoga practitioners). But of course, he's right - at least socially and culturally. But being the sort of scholarly work that this is, it does leave out that back door of redemption that doesn't change over time - yeah, breathing some life back into that almost suffocated, but never extinguished inner light.
I also thought about how damn hard it is to find photographs of contemporary yoga that really capture the spirit of what - in any meaningful sense - it's really about. It's easier with meditation - perhaps because there's no impetus toward drawing our desiring gaze to the body, which is so inevitably commodified today. Instead, the photographer's focus is where it should be: on capturing the outer manifestation of that inner light.