Born and raised in Canada, Christine Hewitt is often in India spending time on photography. Her stunning yoga portraits capture the subject and their surroundings in a fine balance of aesthetic appeal, visual interest and storytelling. ‘India is the best place in the world to take photographs,’ she tells Vinita Bharadwaj in an interview, and shares a selection of her images with YogaLife For many, yoga is a science.
For many, yoga is a science. But, for some, yoga can also be an art. An art, that inspires more art. Christine Hewitt, an intrepid traveller, professional photographer and student of yoga, found a way to combine all of her interests in a unique art: yoga portraits. Born and raised in Canada, Hewitt now calls “the world her home” and spends considerable time in India, where she does yoga portraits and provides photographs for various non-governmental organisations.
Passionate about images, Hewitt’s work is best described by her, as “environmental portraits”, in which she captures her subjects and their surroundings in a balance of aesthetic and interest. Her series of yoga portraits are true to India’s ability to throw out a story at every corner. They blend the physicality of yoga postures with the physical setting, while preserving the vibrancy of the human milieu and the quietude attained by the person in asana. YogaLife caught up with Hewitt to find out how it all began and the quirks of yoga photography in the cacophonous Indian settings.
How were you introduced to yoga and what type of yoga do you practice?
I first became interested in yoga in 2010 when I found a woman who was giving free yoga classes on the beach in Florida, USA. I started, like many people, only knowing and practicing asanas. I have since diverted from a regular asana practice [although I do find it beneficial from time to time and have found deeper ways [for myself] to incorporate yoga into my everyday life. I try to live by rules of right thought and right action and I am able to do this through my everyday actions towards others and myself. Living a truthful existence based on moral values that I have incorporated, such as a vegetarian diet, karma yoga, not being wasteful and trying to practice non-judgement. Everyday I try to live an examined life based on my principles. Some days it is easier than others. I do not teach yoga, but I do feel like we are all teachers and students equally, giving lessons and learning lessons just by our everyday actions.
How important is a passage to and through India in the journey of a yoga student? Why, if at all, is that passage so important?
I think it is important and necessary for some people, and completely irrelevant for others. If you can find strength and guidance with a teacher in India, then that’s great, but those same lessons can be found in any place, at any time, if you seek it. So it really just depends on the personality and where you seek your truth.
What were your first impressions when you arrived in India?
I first travelled to India in 2008 and had a really hard time. I was travelling solo, overland from Nepal, and already had years of travelling experience. I thought I was ready for India, but I was not. You will hear many people tell you that India will either kick your butt or embrace you… a love or hate relationship. Well, it kicked my butt, big time. But I found the desire to go back in 2011, with a need to practice yoga at its source [plus, I love travelling]. It helped me immensely the second time around that I had a goal to accomplish: a few months of dedicated yoga practice. Also, I had a steady place to stay and I was surrounded by peers on the same path. I made friends and learned to fall in love with India at that time.
How did the project or the thought of composing the yoga photos come to you?
When I travelled to India in 2011, I almost did not bring a camera with me. I am happy that I did. Some friends proposed to me that I take their “yoga pictures” and you could almost hear me say “What is a yoga picture?!?!” It all bloomed from there. I would just take friends to places in the city that I found interesting and take their photos. After that people started requesting my photography services and I haven’t stopped since.
Could you describe what goes into the composition of one of your photographs, particularly against the chaotic backdrop of an Indian city?
I work based on found light. It is just the camera and I; we’re hunting for places that have good light. We literally walk around city blocks, while I hunt for the spots. When I find a good spot I ask the person I am photographing to do an asana in that spot, one that fits in aesthetically with the surrounding. I used to try to get the people in the background out of the photos, but I soon gave up on that and now just incorporate them into the photos if they are there. We do some pre-planning, such as choosing a general location and a list of asanas that the client is physically strong at; then everything else is just up to chance and we must go with the flow of the day and the environment.
Does your yoga photography extend across your travels? Or is it limited to India? How often do you visit India?
I do provide yoga photos wherever I tend to travel. As it is my main source of income I don’t really ever stop working at them. I had a really great time in Kathmandu, Nepal, last year doing photos. But I must admit, India is the best place in the world to take photographs [yoga or otherwise]. I never get enough of the vibrant streets and the amazing people, and it’s my favourite place to do these photographs. I spend approximately 8-10 months of the year based out of Mysore, India.
Do you exhibit your yoga photography? Is there a market for it? How can one purchase your photographs if they are interested in owning a print?
I have not yet exhibited my yoga photography in a gallery or such, only in magazines and on the Internet. The market for me is in personal yoga portraits. People hire me to take their photos, or magazines hire me to do photography work for them. Since the photographs I take are mostly commissioned by the people in them, I am have not ventured into selling prints of those images, but it is something I am looking into setting up on my website in the future with a selected few suitable images. I often have them used in magazines with editorial content and I can be contacted for a catalogue of all of my yoga photography.