Features & Columns

'Off the Mat' Goes Global
Bringing Yoga to Public Places

It's not every day that an SJSU photography major decides to marry her art
with yoga and scour the globe to photo-shoot yogis in public places
PIKE PLACE POSITION: Sarah Wells and Camron Clausen have so far shot photos for their project around the Bay Area, as well as in Seattle and Portland.

It's not every day that an SJSU photography major decides to marry her art with yoga and scour the globe to photo-shoot yogis in public places. Apparently taking photos of people doing yoga in the middle of Third Street in downtown San Jose wasn't enough. Apparently recruiting models to sit in the lotus position inside a grocery store wasn't enough.

Enter Sarah Wells, who shall receive her BFA in photography from SJSU at the end of this semester. Taking inspiration from the yogic creed that the most challenging part of one's practice actually begins once you get off the mat, Wells, along with her partner, Camron Clausen, are about to blaze across Planet Earth, cameras in hand, searching for anyone anywhere who wants to do yoga in public places.

At the moment, Wells' work will be seen in the SJSU Art Department throughout next week, with a reception on Tuesday, October 28. After next week it will move to Be the Change Yoga on S. First Street, just south of Santa Clara Street. Her images, depending on the shot, tend to place the serenity of yoga against the backdrop of the urban surroundings. It's almost like yin and yang, half tranquility, half chaos. As a result, Wells says her photography practice itself has become more meditative and yoga-like.

"What I'm interested in is juxtaposing that against the landscape of our contemporary culture," says Wells. "And taking yoga and putting it into the public space, it really starts a conversation between the public and the person doing the yoga."

It might be understood as performance art. The act of staging the scene on the street triggers passersby to stop and ask questions. They become part of the conversation, part of the performance, and, sometimes, part of the final photo.

"People walk by and look and they say, 'What are you doing?'" explains Wells. "And that's where I feel like we're successful in that we can bring that idea, of presence, and that underlying metaphor out into the world, in a very playful and positive way."

With her photos, the physical act of the people doing yoga becomes almost secondary. The idea is to capture the reactions of innocent bystanders and how they perceive the practice of yoga when it's transplanted into a normally non-yoga environment.

"Some of my favorite images are the less athletic ones," Wells admits. "Just because it's not about how high you can get your leg over your head, it's about the attitude of peace you're bringing, and what that does when you insert it into a cityscape and what that does, when that conversation starts with the public we're working with."

So far, Wells has staged yoga photo scenarios locally—San Jose, San Francisco and Santa Cruz—as well as places in the Northwest like Seattle and Portland. Now she and Clausen will split town and travel the world, shooting yoga photos and blogging about the experience. Volunteers are already coming out of the woodwork, globally, to lend their assistance, either with accommodations or connections, with video editing skills, or just with a willingness to be photographed doing yoga poses in a subway. A 30-day Kickstarter campaign to help fund the adventure also kicks off next week.

"I really wanted to extend this project outside of the States, also, just because there's a fast-growing global community of yoga," Wells explained. "And it's a community that's really unique and special in the sense that it's not competitive. It's a very accepting and very open-hearted community."

So expect lots of hostel-hopping, couch surfing and yoga, from Europe to India. Yoga is an old practice, at least 10 times older than the United States, so it all makes sense. With everyone joining in the effort to help bring the whole adventure to fruition, Wells says she is motivated even more to discover yoga practitioners in every corner of the world and thus document their individual narratives.

"It really is a collective effort," she says. "It's more than just about traveling the world. It's really about getting to share these peoples' stories."

Off the Mat

SJSU Art Dept.

OCT. 27-31

Free