In his new book Yoga: The Secret of Life, published today by powerHouse Books, Francesco Mastalia describes in spiritual terms the wet plate collodion process he used to make portraits of 108 yogis. After pouring emulsion on a plate of black glass, “in ceremonial fashion, the plate is then bathed in a solution of silver nitrate to render it sensitive to light,” he writes in the book. “Waiting, under the mystical shroud, the ‘wooden-view-camera’ sits in silence, as the glass plate is brought to light.” After exposure, the glass plate, “eager to reveal itself,” is developed and dipped in fixing solution, and “as it clears, the inner light magically comes to ‘life.'” The project began with Mastalia’s interest in the physical prowess of yoga practitioners. He was “captivated by yogis stretching, bending and twisting themselves into precise alignment,” he writes, and drawn to “the strength and grace of this human origami.” But the project transformed into something deeper, “as many of the yogis chose to emphasize meditation, devotion, and their Divine connection.” About half of the yogis—including many of the most famous—are pictured at rest, meditating in the woods or shown up close, their heads tightly framed by the glass plate.
Others are pictured practicing simple or difficult asanas. On a rock surrounded by water, Jared McCann stands on his hands, his legs curving back behind him and far out over his head, in a pose that must have been challenging to hold for the camera’s long exposure. Tracy Bleier leans back on one arm and one knee. Along with images, Yoga includes reflections from each subject, who describe how they came to yoga and what it means to them. Says Bleier, “Yoga became like a romantic relationship for me where you fall in love with something that you just can’t live without.” Something similar happened to Mastalia over the course of the project. “This journey has had a profound effect on my life,” he writes. “It has changed my perspective on reality, and perception of existence,” he says, transforming “every breath” into “a divine encounter.”
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How I Got That Shot: Wet-Plate Portraits in a Flash (for PDN subscribers; login required)