Francesco Mastalia is a devoted yogi in his own rite, his method of meditation emphasized in his craft. YOGA: the Secret of Life explores the personal experiences of 108 of todays leading yoga practitioners and how this ancient practice has transformed their mind, body and spirit. It's a photography book including the likes of world renowned yogis Sharon Gannon, David Life, Sri Dharma Mittra, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Jai Uttal, MC Yogi, Shiva Rea, Seane Corn, Elena Brower, Rodney Yee, Manouso Manos, Jasmine Tarkeshi and many more. We caught up with Francesco to ask about the inspiration behind his new book...
Can you tell me about trying to express an inner experience via external shapes and the medium of photo?
From its beginnings, the camera has been a magical tool to engage with the world. It acts as a window to view a different perspective on reality, and a way to express emotions and ideas. Light is the essence of this portrayal; the energy residing in our soul. Channeling light’s energy has been practiced since ancient times. As a yogi seeks the divine presence of inner light, so too is the quest of the photographer.
What inspired this project to come about?
I was captivated by yogis stretching, bending and twisting themselves into precise alignment. Envisioning this physical expression as a form of art evoked a personal vision to document the strength and grace of this human origami. This visual study of asana, quickly transcended into the spiritual realms of the practice, as many of the yogis chose to emphasize meditation, devotion, and their Divine connection. Seeking to capture an ethereal quality in the photographs, the resurrection of the wet-collodion process provided the ideal medium to narrate this spiritual expression.
What is the collodion process?
The process begins by hand-pouring an emulsion of collodion onto 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. Waiting, under the mystical shroud, the “wooden-view-camera” sits in silence, as the glass plate is brought to light. With the subject holding perfectly still, the lens cap is carefully removed from the antique brass lens and the seconds are counted. While celebrating nature’s offerings and absorbing the power of the sun, the breadth of time embodies the spirit. Eager to reveal itself, the glass plate is quickly brought to development. Appearing as a negative, it is immersed into a fixing solution, and as it clears, the inner light magically comes to "life."
Mysterious, alluring, and elusive, the charismatic force of the collodion process propels us into the union of a known and unknown world. This labor-intensive craft requires each step be performed by hand. During its fragile journey, itis essential that the glass plate be sensitized, exposed, and developed while remaining wet. Emerging as a positive image on glass, an “ambrotype” is miraculously brought to light by a divine force.
It sounds like this this relates to your subject matter...
Yes. When the light-sensitive chemicals absorb the sun’s ultraviolet rays, we enter a mysterious world where art and alchemy embrace. This union unveils the synergy between the yogi, photographer, and flow of the universe. As the exchange of energy is absorbed, it creates a fleeting moment in time, never to exist again. “Ambrotype,” from ancient Greek, means “immortal,” capturing an impression for eternity, its essence revealing the spirit of the soul.
How did you chose the yogis you photograph?
Before beginning the project I approached the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY and asked if I could photograph some of the yogis who come to teach there. They received me with open arm. I went through the catalogue and selected approximately 30 yogis who were coming to teach there. From there I asked the yogis I photographed who they thought would be important to include in the book. There were certain yogis I knew I wanted to photograph. I was guided form one person to the next. It was an organic process.
Any interesting stories from a shoot?
There was an interesting story behind all the shoots!
To find out more about Francesco Mastalia, please visit
Post written for SFYogaMag.com