|(John Cage Portrait, Series 3, #22, Robert Mahon, 1980)|
“Through chance the possibilities of photography are expanded beyond the limits of individual bias. The work is experimental; the resulting images become a discovery. Any moment and any place is as good as another for the making of a photograph.”
(Robert Mahon on his work, John Cage: A Portrait Series)
|(Embrace, from Yoga and Trees: Glimpses of Satya Yuga, Robert Mahon 2001)|
|("Malasana" from Yoga and Trees: Glimpses of Satya Yuga, Robert Mahon 2001)|
Between the viaducts of your dreams
Where mobile steel rims crack
And the ditch in the back roads stop
Could you find me?
..To lay me down in silence easy
To be born again, to be born again
(Van Morrison, Astral Weeks)
It requires a fair stock of bravery; to participate in the play of light and dark, to venture into the slipstream; to trust in the processes of chance, as life dispenses and assigns its cargo without preference. But this is exactly what we do with yoga practice.
I think many of us would agree that those conversations about yoga that circumscribe our experience to bodily practice, as if it were a kind of 20-minute workout, narrow our vision. Some would say those discussions about yoga miss the point altogether. Because, for many of us, yoga has changed our lives. And once our lives have changed, we notice that yoga is not about falling in love with the medium, of growing ever more fond of the body; but a way of seeing the world, and a means of perceiving ourselves. This yoga, this path, has a far deeper reach; one that perforates the boundaries between the practices of the body, and the practices of other instruments of vision, such as the camera, until it finally moves beyond the instrument altogether.
"Chance-process" has defined, mapped and shaped New Jersey based photographer Robert Mahon's lens on the world for several decades; ever since he came under the influence of both Buddhism and yoga philosophy in the late 70's through his close mentorship with composer John Cage. A practicing yogi, whose work resides in the permanent collections of the MOMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and, amongst others, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Mahon talks to us about how his yoga practice began to influence his willingness to play with the even, cool-handed, allocations of "chance"; so much so, that the theme of chance would dominate his work.
I first came across Robert Mahon's yoga photographs in an article by Anne Cushman entitled, The Yoga of Creativity in Tricycle, The Buddhist Review. That's when I decided to contact Robert Mahon about his series, Yoga and Trees: Glimpses into Satya Yuga.
The wispy bodies in familiar yoga poses, are but amorphous orbs bathed in diffuse light, interlaced with textual fragments; and then, juxtaposed are vertical strokes, lithe trees, that look like they've swallowed glowing halos. They evoke a sense of both observation and process that are reflective of yoga itself. Furthermore, there was a silence, an internal process to the images that caught my eye. This certainly wasn't photography that intended to document the correct aligment of an asana. What it was doing was evoking an inner space; alluding to a process or a practice; and creating intimate relationships between forms that seem otherwise unrelated.
|(Merce Cunningham, Wesbeth Studio, Robert Mahon, 2007)|
All of our instruments rely on the inner eye and its conditioned perception. So what happens to the inner-eye when you remove your own preferences, your likes/dislikes, your attractions/aversions from this equation of perceiving? What if you choose not to cling, to or control the outcome of your observations?
These questions are the spinal column, the backbone of research into "chance processes" in art; as well as, the exploration of chance and possibility in yoga and meditation. Tapping into chance is the ability to slip into the slipstream, wade into the unknown, the potential and unmanifest, by attending to the present moment.
“The question of how a photographer can profitably
collaborate with chance - how to preserve its surprising
felicities within an order of structure and stability -
has been a major preoccupation of photography this
century, I think Mr. Mahon’s work is among the most
interesting and potentially rewarding of current
explorations in this direction."
(- John Szarkowski, Director, Department of Photography, 1962 - 1999, The Museum of Modern Art, New York City)
|("Standing Firm" from Yoga and Trees: Glimpses of Satya Yuga, Robert Mahon 2001)|
It wasn't long before I realized that I had accidentally bumped into an artist of enormous significance, both in terms of the work he has produced; but also in terms of the strides made in the methods by which he explored chance process. The body of his work is broad, and spans many years; as such, the interview I had with him only considers a few of his photos as a starting point. Namely, Yoga and Trees: Glimpses into Satya Yuga, first exhibited in 2004 at PhilosophyBox in New York City; his 216-image portrait of John Cage, which is now part of the permanent collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and, his work entitled Two Children, a large scale work of 80 photographs made from a single inherited negative, which was exhibited in 1993 at The Museum of Modern Art. Two Children was purchased by MOMA for its permanent collection in 1983.
What follows is our interview about working with the yogic process and the use of chance processes in the body of his work. He talks about his long mentorship with John Cage, and the history of Cage's transition into chance processes, through contact with yoga philosophy and Buddhism. In his agile responses, Mahon proves that yoga is best when it's kept close to us; when we dare to travel with it in our carry-on luggage; when it comes with us to the baseball game, and when it lives on and off-the-mat...