Searching for the masters of yoga: Photographer Michael O’Neill’s “On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace”

By on November 16, 2015

Photographer Michael O’Neill’ new book, On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace, is a powerful photographic tribute to the practice of Yoga, and an attempt to, in O’Neill’s own words, “pay homage to yoga’s classical lineage and understand this unique moment before it slips away.”

For the next two months, from November 7 – January 7, 2016, the Taschen Galley in Los Angeles will be presenting the first major photographic exhibition on the subjects of yoga and meditation, Michael O’Neill. On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace, featuring eighty photographs from O’Neill’s new book, published by Taschen, as well as a selection of artifacts documenting the history of this project and of yoga through the ages.

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As you can see in this video — which features evocative footage from O’Neill’s travels as well as behind-the-scenes production shots — he first became interested in yoga after a spinal surgery left him without the use of one arm, but the therapeutic side of yoga led to his total immersion into the culture of yoga, which eventually set him down a path, searching for the masters of yoga, a journey that would take him across the world, spanning over 100,000 miles, over the last ten years.

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Michael O’Neill at the Taschen Gallery L.A. opening party, photo by Kyle Espeleta

O’Neill has, according to one description, “trekked beyond the traditional epicenters to meditate with monks in the Tibetan Plateau, live with sadhus in their tents at the Kumbh Mela, and marvel at the boys who practice the little known discipline of Mallakhamba at the wrestling grounds in Kochi.”

O’Neill says that Lake Mansarovar, near Mount Kailash, in western Tibet is “the holiest spot on the planet.”

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The June 2007 publication of a 22-page Vanity Fair feature article, “Planet Yoga,” written by Amy Fine Collins, seemed to come along right at a point where many where just discovering yoga, although, as it states right at the top of the piece, more than sixteen million were practicing yoga already. There are now more than 250 million practitioners of yoga worldwide, united in physical, spiritual, and mindful practice, but it has taken yoga several thousand years to make the journey from a handful of monasteries dotting the Himalayas to the yoga studios popping up everywhere.

The Vanity Fair feature showed off many O’Neill’s now-iconic images of individuals who also make an appearance in the book, including B. K. S. Iyengar, the grand master of yoga; John Friend, the creator of the Anusara technique; Shiva Rea, Lady of the Dance; Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, the Queen of Kundalini; Dharma Mittra, the “teacher’s teacher”; and Christy Turlington, the “model yogini,” who is called “The Goddess” in O’Neill’s book.

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With the encouragement of Vanity Fair‘s director of photography, O’Neill’s interest expanded into wanting to collect the photographs into a book, which then set him on the path to take portraits of the most influential yogis of our time — B. K. S. Iyengar, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, T. K. V. Desikachar, Rodney Yee, Colleen Saidman, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa — meeting with yoga masters and gurus in both the East and the West, as well as those famed for integrating yoga into their high-profile lives, such as Donna Karan, Sting, and Trudie Styler.

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On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace also collects the origins and essence of this ancient and timeless spiritual practice, and beautifully depicts O’Neill’s personal journey, with nearly 200 beautiful photographs, most of which have never been seen before.

O’Neill is a practitioner of Kundalini, described in the Vanity Fair piece as a “rigorous yoga involving meditation, chanting, and breath exercises which harmonize the body’s energy centers, or chakras, and tune the nervous and glandular systems. It is also a lifestyle for Sikhs around the world — a science of the mind and body, which its proponents say cures illnesses and drives its practitioners toward spiritual oneness with God.”

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Included in the book are his photographs of America’s guru of Kundalini, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, who came to the November 7th opening night festivities at the Taschen Galley in Los Angeles. Her Golden Bridge Yoga centers in Los Angeles and Manhattan are popular urban yoga centers that bring a full understanding of the Kundalini lifestyle to its many devotees.

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Michael O’Neill with Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa at the Taschen Gallery L.A. opening party, photo by Stuart Shapiro/Nightflight.com

Accompanying O’Neill’s photographs in the book are essays on the role of yoga in contemporary culture, from meditation master His Holiness Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, one of India’s most revered and beloved spiritual leaders, and Ashtanga guru Eddie Stern, the founder of Ashtanga Yoga New York and the Broome Street Ganesha Temple in NYC.

Saraswatiji is also the President of Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh (home of the annual International Yoga Festival) and founder of Global Interfaith WASH Alliance, Divine Shakti Foundation, and Ganga Action Parivar, and India Heritage Research Foundation. Meanwhile, Stern co-publishes the philosophy journal Namarupa, Categories of Indian Thought, and is a co-creator of the violence reduction program called Urban Yogis.

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Taschen Gallery L.A. opening party, photo by Kyle Espeleta

For nearly fifty years, O’Neill has photographed many cultural icons — from Andy Warhol to the Dalai Lama — and his work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair, among other print publications, and his work has also been featured in solo exhibitions at Visa pour l’image (Perpignan, France); at II Mes Internacional da Fotografia (São Paulo, Brazil); and Houk Friedman (New York). Many of his photographs reside in the collections of the Walker Art Center, among other museums.

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Horse Face Pose, 2010
40 x 27.5 in (102 x 70 cm)
Archival Pigment Print
Edition of 22
$ 6,800

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Ten photos collected in On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace:

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From Taschen:

It’s taken yoga several thousand years to make the journey from a handful of monasteries dotting the Himalayas to the yoga studios popping up everywhere. Whether bathing with holy men in the Ganges or joining the chorus of a thousand voices chanting “om,” photographer Michael O’Neill decided to devote himself for ten years to experience and record the world of yoga at this critical juncture in its history.

From November 7 – January 7, 2016, TASCHEN Gallery proudly announces MICHAEL O’NEILL. ON YOGA: THE ARCHITECTURE OF PEACE, the first major photographic exhibition on the subjects of yoga and meditation, and O’Neill’s first show in Los Angeles. On display are eighty photographs from his new monograph as well as a selection of artifacts documenting the history of this project and of yoga through the ages.

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From some of the most influential yogis our time such as B. K. S. Iyengar, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, and Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa to meditation masters His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and S. N. Goenka to boys practicing the little known discipline of Mallakhamba at the wrestling grounds of Kochi, O’Neill’s images celebrate both the rich lineage and the modern global community of yoga. Says O’Neill: “All I wanted to do was to pay homage to yoga’s classical lineage and understand this unique moment before it slips away.” The result is a powerful photographic tribute to the age-old discipline turned global phenomenon, with over 250 million practitioners united in physical, spiritual, and mindful practice worldwide.

Michael O’Neill (b. 1946) has photographed the cultural icons of his time, from Andy Warhol to the Dalai Lama over nearly 50 years for publications including the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair. For the last decade he has immersed himself in the culture of yoga, turning his lens on the origins and essence of this ancient and timeless spiritual practice.

All of the prints in this exhibition are archival pigment prints made by Adamson Editions, one of the world’s foremost digital ateliers, founded in 1979. David Adamson and his team have collaborated with some of the most interesting and influential artists working today, including Chuck Close, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Jenny Holzer, Robert Longo, and Kiki Smith.

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Michael O’Neill. On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace opened on November 7th, and closes on January 07, 2016

Taschen Gallery
8070 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Phone 323 852 9098
Tue-Sat: 11am to 7pm
Sunday: Noon to 6pm
Monday: Closed

Download Taschen’s Magazine Winter Edition here for “gift ideas to suit all budgets and tastes or simply for your own bumper dose of cultural inspiration.” (pdf, 65mb)

Michael O'Neill FEATURED

Michael O’Neill at the Taschen Gallery L.A. opening party, photo by Stuart Shapiro/Nightflight.com; all other photos unless otherwise credited, courtesy of Taschen Gallery

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