An interview with Robert Sturman
We’ve posted before about the incomparable Robert Sturman, and admired his work from afar. Now we are thrilled to have actually met the man who, like Rumi,
“can’t stop pointing to beauty.”
Spending time with Robert Sturman is somewhat surreal for me, as I have idolized his imagery for the last decade and a half of my own evolving yoga practice. I have often wondered about the guy behind the lens, the person taking these extraordinarily captivating shots of yogis in serene, stoic, sometimes Cirque du Soleil-esque postures, always with a mystical feel. His photographs never fail to invoke the hope of eventual representation of such beauty in my own shapes. Of wanting to be better.
While in Santa Monica recently, Alesha and I had the opportunity to sit down with Robert. He is warm, inviting, soft-spoken, yet incredibly passionate. After spending a few hours in a workshop with Robert where he gave away all his best “photography with your phone” tips, Alesha thought to ask him if we could put our Sturman-inspired efforts on Gather’s Facebook page. Our session together turned into so much more. We had the unique opportunity to probe the character behind the lens. And it is equally as magnetic as the images that we know and love.
We were about a half an hour late to our meeting. Robert was planning to attend a yoga class but, due to our untimely arrival, ended up skipping it altogether, graciously saying (more than once), in his laid-back manner, “Don’t worry about it!” We picked his brain in our unorganized fashion, and yet somehow managed to have him well up on more than one occasion.
You see, Robert Sturman is a bleeding heart. The reason that his images inspire such emotion is because he is pouring that emotion in from his side of the lens. From a very young age, Robert learned that photography was his salvation from sadness, something to cling to when life became overwhelming. And as he got older, he learned that yoga held similar power, giving him tools to cope. Combining the two, well, it was only natural.
In the words of Mr. Sturman, “We are in the age of selfies, and photographs are becoming the way that we communicate with one another.” Over the many years that he has honed his craft, Robert has come to the conclusion that the image will not portray emotion unless the subject is at ease. To have that spark of feeling permeate the audience, he needs the subject to give him their vulnerability, their heart. And the only way for that to happen is if they feel safe. Robert attempts to create that nurturing space where his subject can come to life and unfold (literally!) before him.
Robert says that his craft is more about humanity than actual yoga. Through his art, he attempts to tell stories of figurative poetry, to present a vision of people wanting to be their best, at a specific moment in time. That sacred, simple act of an individual trying to be better. And it just so happens that in that moment, the image becomes like a Renaissance painting for Robert — the combination of beauty and the striking gesture of the pose.
How does Robert handle criticism of his art? “I turn the poison into poetry,” he says. He is a redeemer of sorts, giving a voice to people who are victimized by the brutality that can be “comments.” For the yogi who puts themselves on center stage, the violence of being torn down by onlookers shouting, “Imposter!” “Show-Off!” “Un-yogic!” frustrates him. This is where the power of his success can actually be used as defense. In his way, he lifts the subject up even higher, almost to an elevation where they cannot be touched. At least in the moment.
The ultimate beauty of all about Robert Sturman? His presence in living in the moment. It is always the moment that he is living because he seems to understand the urgency of saving it. That fleeting second of the moment that is constantly in motion before us. There is incredible mindfulness in capturing that. He is documenting a generation of movement in one still shot.
All photos courtesy of Robert Sturman’s Facebook page, used with permission.