Yoga Photographer Richard Pilnick has the ability to bring out a person’s true essence, capturing the body in its most beautiful forms
Richard Pilnick, a photographer, yogi, and father, uses his gift of photography to make a difference in this world. With a fashion and portraiture background, Pilnick is taking the yoga world by storm with his iconic imagery, having already shot a number of celebrity yogis around the world, including Manju Jois, Sharon Gannon, Sri Dharma Mittra, Mark Whitwell, Danny Paradise and Rusty Wells. He works closely with the Yoga Journal in Germany and has been exhibited in the National Portrait gallery in London. Furthermore, he has journeyed to Mongolia to document the first ever yoga retreat in the East Gobi Desert with Lululemon and Reclaim Your Self, and has been featured in the prestigious photographic Black + White magazine alongside the great David Bailey.
YOU’VE BEEN A PHOTOGRAPHER FOR MANY YEARS. I BELIEVE YOU STARTED IN FASHION. WHEN DID YOU TAKE UP YOGA PHOTOGRAPHY?
Yoga Photography happened upon me before I even knew, on my third trip to the Indian village of Gokarna in 2011. And the same village portrait photography came to me in 2009. I was practicing at the time with Shiva Shankar, this was really before my practice really developed a few years later, but I was fascinated by the human body and its capabilities – so I proposed we do a shoot. A few days later we were building a studio on the roof of the shala. I found the whole process incredible, a meditation in it’s own right, from building the studio to choosing the Asana, loading the dark slides right through to the processing back in the lab in London.
Eventually I came across Cat Alip-Douglas while shooting with Cat I saw a picture of her husband Phil, eagerly I asked to shoot a portrait of the two of them, sensing it would be of importance. Cat said all I can do is ask Phil – two hours later Cat texted me “Phil said yes”. I headed over to the studio to meet them both, I arranged the studio and took two frames knowing it wasn’t right, I changed everything and took one last frame – that pictured ended up in the National Portrait Gallery in London and on a huge poster on the outside of the gallery. The universe had given me the nod, so I continued.
PORTRAITS OF A SOUL IS A PROJECT YOU STARTED WITH FACE READER ERIC STANDOP. YOU’VE BEEN FEATURED IN NUMEROUS MAGAZINES, SUCH AS THE YOGA JOURNAL GERMANY. I BELIEVE YOU DID A PROJECT WITH THEM FOR A WHOLE YEAR.
Portraits of a Soul is a collaboration of the arts with Eric Standop, who has the incredible ability of reading everything about a person just from looking into their face – every line, wrinkle, mole and hair tells their story. Eric translates these hidden messages into a legible form for the rest of us. He was able to give me a deeper understanding of myself and the subjects in my pictures, which continues to give me a deeper insight to my path and the people I meet. We came up with the concept of portraits and poetry – ‘Portraits of a Soul – Face Reading poems’, Eric writing poems to accompany the portraits giving the viewing greater depth of understanding and a new dimension to engage with the picture.
It was a natural evolution, I was on a journey to understand myself, I’d removed my self from the life I was leading in the fashion industry and allowed myself to be guided by the universe. This led to the chance meeting with Eric in Thailand and the introduction to yoga. But I think the beauty of the two is understanding; many practitioners of yoga are on a journey of self discovery, through the movement meditation one becomes closer to their own innate being. So, to gain a deeper level of understanding of the self, we offered poems of the true self, the true identity and purpose to teachers.
HOW IS YOGA PHOTOGRAPHY DIFFERENT FROM FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY?
I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s anything different about shooting yoga, fashion, or any other subject matter really, it’s all about your connection and understanding to the subject matter. So for me, I feel more connected to yoga, I’m on my own journey in my practice so there’s a deeper understanding I have for yoga photography than I had for fashion. I feel so privileged to have worked in the fashion industry, technically and creatively. There really isn’t another photographic industry so advanced, so to take all I’ve learnt and then apply this to a subject matter close to my heart, and this combined with my understanding of asana practice and the aesthetic of the human body, I feel gives me strength.
MOST OF YOUR YOGA PHOTOGRAPHY AND PORTRAITS OF A SOUL ARE SHOT ON FILM, WHICH MEANS YOU CAN’T RETAKE A CERTAIN SHOT IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT. HOW DO YOU PREPARE YOURSELF AND THE SUBJECT FOR THE SHOOT?
Shooting on film especially “large format” makes you far more connected to your subject – you have to be. As you only get the one shot, you focus, you’re patient waiting for that right moment, that feeling, that connection. Shooting yoga, you become connected to the breath of the practitioner, you breath with them, as they exhale, deeper, you exhale with them and then press the shutter. But also, by not seeing the results then and there, your mind is always focused, you’re always in the present not trying to change a picture, not thinking what you should have done. Then, in the lab, you’re able to re-live the moment with the printer watching the images come through in the water. For me, it’s a meditation, this realization came to me when I had deepened my practice and started TM meditation. I was sat in my film changing tent, feeling my way through loading film with my hands, and not a thought in my mind. This action I saw was a mantra; with the black cloth over my head and the viewing loop to my eye focusing my mind, which was quiet, this was my mantra. I began seeing meditation and yoga everywhere, I realized “life is yoga”.
So for me, the preparation is the same as rolling out your mat before practice. I open my case, put my tripod together, load the film and begin. Every shoot is a little bit different from the last.
YOU’VE GONE ON TO SHOOT BIG CAMPAIGNS FOR LULULEMON AND OTHER YOGA-RELATED BRANDS.
Shooting ‘Mongolia – a Nomadic adventure’ for Lululemon in the East Gobi desert was a dream come true for me. I’d wanted to travel this land for a very long time, since my first trip to Asia at 19. So to be commissioned to go was incredible. Usually working for big clients, you have lots of pre-production meetings with all departments, especially the creative team, discussing the film or stills in great length to plan and execute the shoot to get the desired assets for the campaign. This however was different. Although we had a lot of meetings, they loved my work and my creativity, that they just wanted me to do my thing – this is rare and an absolute honor. The planning came from the logistical issues we would face shooting a movie in an area with no electricity, no WiFi, no connection. This did mean we had to be very reserved with how much we viewed the footage we shot on a daily basis ensuring we had enough battery power to continue downloading and backing up the film. This, added with shooting large format film in a desert surrounded by sand…all this made the project so much more fun.
By being free in this way with the creative, you don’t have a script to follow, no storyboard which needs completing, leaving you free to let the journey take you into incredible situations. I had the idea to shoot a portrait of the train driver before we left on the Trans Mongolian into the East Gobi Desert, this ended with us riding the first 30-40 minutes of the journey up front with him.
DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA?
With the industry today, social media does play a big role in the work I create, as this is the way teachers find out about my work. From both my social channels (@yogaphotographer and Yoga Photography) and the social channels of my clients, all this helps to raise awareness of the images I’m creating. I know it’s something I really need to work on more as I see there are many ways to utilise this in driving traffic, creating material that is current and attractive to the audience to make them not only want to ‘like it’ but more importantly – ‘share it’. As my key driver is to inspire change, then this is a great platform to reach many people, and hopefully inspire along the way.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR DREAM CAMPAIGN?
One of my dreams campaigns has already happened – ‘Mongolia, a Nomadic adventure’. We shot a film of the first ever yoga retreat in the East Gobi Desert for Lululemon with advanced Jivamukti teacher, Emma Henry and Reclaim Your Self. So moving forward, my dream campaign would be another adventure, taking yoga into either extreme locations, or up mountains, in to uncharted territory.
I love to mix my passions together, working with beautiful souls, in incredible locations, shooting portraits and yoga, looking at how life is, looking at the subtleties of daily life, the nuances of difference around the world. Combining all of this to inspire, to inspire change in oneself and thus a global shift, aiding the global awakening in some way.
See also: Top 10 Wellness Retreats in Asia
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
I’ve just launched yogaphotography.com, this started as a homage to Ashtanga, but during the process I realized this needed to be much bigger. I want to inspire change in this world, I see the shift I have had in myself through yoga and meditation and a change in diet, which came through this deeper understanding of the self. I’m happier, more peaceful, more focused driven and I’m just one person, so, I honestly feel, the more people we can inspire to come to the mat and begin that journey, the happier and healthier this world will become. One by one, slowly, collectively we can inspire change and peace within this world.
yogaphotography.com starts with Ashtanga, but we’re looking to document each style in the same way, the intentions are for this to be a global database of yoga asana and styles where both practitioners and non-practitioners can find inspiration for their own practice.
Interested in booking a photo session with Richard? Check out current dates and locations here.