“My love for photography has come from my love for life. It is my voice to compliment and celebrate the beauty of the world.”
As a mixed-media artist and intuitive creator, Robert Sturman’s work embodies the concept of wholeness in its finest form.From tactile physicality to dreamlike mystery, his images are both sensual and spiritual, portraying the rich and deep human experience along the mystical connection—as equal parts of our vulnerable, raw nature.
The common denominator running through his art seems to be the undivided human, one who is in touch with all the areas of his humanity: mind, body, soul and the other.
His images create bridges between the different human spheres, only to reunite them again in a much needed home for the eye.
We’ve been followers and admirers of his work for months and we’re excited to share our interview with an artist so close to our hearts and so dear to our aesthetic imagination.
M: Hi Robert, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. Tell us, where does your love for photography come from? How did you end up choosing it as your outlet for expression?
R: Thank you for being interested in my work as an artist. It comes naturally for me to see the world as awesome while I have a camera in my hands.
When I was 14, my father gave me a camera and I asked him what I was supposed to take pictures of and he responded, “anything that you love.”
So, really, my love for photography has come from my love for life. It is my voice to compliment and celebrate the beauty of the world.
M: What defines a good photo / work of art?
R: One that makes me want to slow down and appreciate what I am looking at. An image that evokes the emotion of a simultaneous tear and a smile. That is what keeps me awake and grateful in my life, so that’s what I want my work to be about.
M: What attracted you to yogis as opposed to a more traditional route, such as portraiture?
R: I studied portraiture as a painter at the art academy. It is an interesting thing to do but I was never naturally passionate about it.
Yoga is an exciting, fluid, rhythmic dance that I have become extremely connected to. It started, because I simply wanted to do more yoga to take care of myself mentally and physically as an artist. Then it occurred to me that it held in it such a profound expression of the human experience. I’m in it deep and loving what I am feeling through my practice and seeing through my camera. It’s quite a celebration.
There is a lot of ecstasy in the postures. There is a ton of honesty, vulnerability, joy and sorrow. It’s all right there. And that’s what my work is all about.
M: How did you get started on your own path with yoga?
R: I began my practice in 2000 when I returned from India. It took many years for me to realize what it was for me. But, eventually it became clear to me that each time I unrolled my mat to do a practice, I was having an appointment with myself and removing anything inside of me that was in the way of my life.
One of my favorite Picasso quotes is “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” I find this to be very true for me about yoga.
M: It has been said that you fall in love with your models?
R: It’s just connection. It could be confused as that, but it is really pure and simple, an adoration and respect. I would not call it falling in love—there is just a warmth. People feel good when they are being honored and seen.
It is the same feeling I have for the prisoners I have worked with. It’s human beings connecting. And then there is always the farewell, because most of the people I work with I will never see again in person.
But, we are connected through the images for the rest of our lives. So, I try to appreciate the moments we are together and sneak in a very present shared gaze, because I know we will go on being connected but most likely never cross paths again—and if we do, we will be different people.
M: Well I must say, I have spoken to many of your models and they all have the same opinion of you. You are a sweet, patient professional that makes them feel comfortable in front of the lens. Is that something you consciously work on?
R: Not at all. I just enjoy being with people, diving deep into the creativity and I think they can feel my enthusiasm to discover.
M: Do you have a ritual, like a professional athlete, before you do a major photo shoot / workshop / project?
R: Nothing more than silence. That is my ritual for everything—quiet time to just breathe. That is what I depend on mostly for everything. So much is born out of being relaxed.
M: This past May you took an iconic photo of Master Tao Porchon-Lynch, in a red dress that ended up circulating the web on a viral scale, as she was about to go on the World Guinness records for being the world’s oldest yoga teacher. You got a lot of recognition for that photograph, including a coverage by the New York Times. What was your experience with Master Tao like?
R: Tao Porchon-Lynch was wonderful to work with. We shared an afternoon together in Central Park in New York City and made art.
This light-filled 93 year-old, beautiful, intelligent, sharp, woman, thanked me three times for being patient with her while she got into her poses and we made art together.
I asked myself: Where do I have to be? What do I have to do? Who am I not to be patient? Life slowed down.
M: You’re a world traveler. What places have remained with you? What memories?
I made four separate trips to Cuba, one month each. There was an 88 year old man named Alejandro who I met the first time I was there and we quickly became friends. He was a great musician in the revolutionary history of Cuba.
He had no one—no money, no family, no support from the communist government. I made up my mind I was going to make sure he was okay for the rest of his life with enough money in his pocket so he could eat. I also made his portrait each time I visited.
Anytime I had a friend who was going to Havana, I sent money and they spent time with him, learning about Cuba and being in the presence of a wonderful human being. My mother and father even visited him when they went to Cuba. After two years of visiting Cuba and knowing him, I received word that he had died. I never returned.
M: You’ve quoted Osho often in your work. How has his wisdom influenced your artistic philosophy?
When I first arrived in India, I stopped in at the Osho center South of Mumbai. When I walked in, I saw a huge sign with the following quote, by Osho:
“The way of the creator.
To be creative means to be in love with life.
You can be creative only if you love life enough
That you want to enhance its beauty.
You want to bring a little more music to it.
A little more poetry to it.
A little more dance to it.”
I looked at the sign for a long time and I was very moved by it. It was so simple and it was everything to me. It was the beginning of a life long love affair with creation.
There is a myth in the West, that conditions us to believe that artists are troubled beings who create out of desperation and madness. So many who have come before us did not know how to deal with the vast creative fire.This was the beginning of creating an art that was a living expression of the way in which I wanted to live. This statement marked the beginning of my yogic journey and it still includes everything I need to know about being an artist of our world.
M: How do you manage to be both an artist and an entrepreneur? Should they be compatible?
A few years ago, I woke up one day and I made a conscious choice: to become the human being I had always dreamed of being.
I no longer wanted to fantasize about living. I wanted to find out what it meant to honor who I truly am and say Yes to all of the things that supported me in becoming my real self. I wanted to experience life at my full potential.It was nothing short of an internal revolution. I was going to face everything that had made me tense up. It was a personal Renaissance in which I was determined to integrate my wild, creative, right-brain artist self with the mathematician/businessman left-brain one.
With hard work and discipline, I started manifesting a man who found just as much satisfaction in learning code to build a website as in going out into the world with my camera.
This has given me a great sense of peace, because I harmonized and connected the different parts of myself.
M: Tell us about the Poetry of the Gods project. What motivated you to begin this work and what did you try to express through it?
When I returned from India, I began to bring more asana into my life and attend classes on a regular basis. I was using a Polaroid process in which I would carve into pictures while they were in a prolonged drying state and create painterly photographs filled with rhythm and color that was all natural (this was before Photoshop).
Up until recently, Polaroids were all I did for the greatest part of my career. It was a unique process of photography in which I carved into the images and created extremely fluid, painterly works of art bursting with color. It was a pre-digital process that I took very far.
I traveled around the world celebrating the diversity of our planet completing bodies of work in India, Cuba, Europe, and many other places. I did major commissions for the Olympics, the Grammys, World Cup soccer, etc.
But then one day Polaroid announced they were going out of business. At that point, they divided up the remainder of the film for various Artists. I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to use the last of the film.
I devoted that film to two projects. One was to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. I collaborated with the Grammy folks and photographed about 50 of New Orleans beloved musicians, including the Neville Brothers and Fats Domino.
The other project I used the film for was the exploration of expressiveness of yoga.
I started looking around and I saw that the asanas were beautiful. In the art academy, we always had models to work with. The asanas were so expressive to me and showed humanity aspiring to touch something larger than ourselves and I was very moved by that.
I did a massive series entitled “Poetry of the Gods.” It definitely celebrates the poetry of yoga on the beaches of Southern California. It’s my most comprehensive collection—over 500 finished pieces. It resulted in a large coffee table book, with the foreword by Shiva Rea. I’m quite proud of the finished piece and I look forward to its publication in the very near future.
M: Finally, do you have a favorite quote to live by?
R: I change it every year. Last year it was a Maslow quote.
“What one can become, one must become.”A great quote to live by can change your life.
Thank you, Robert.
The official visual artist of 2005’s 47th Annual GRAMMY® Awards,Robert Sturman has formal training as a painter and photographer, and holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Following his degree, Sturman completed a two-year apprenticeship with Carmel, CA-based master photographer William Giles, whose striking images have been said, “to have the impact of a Zen koan,” a description that could apply to Sturman’s imagery as well. He also studied for two years at the Memphis College of Art under acclaimed Italian painter John Torina, whose ephemeral, atmospheric landscapes are echoed in many of Sturman’s works.
You can find out more about Robert Sturman’s work at his online studio and connect with him via Facebook and Twitter.