The Rural We: Francesco Mastalia
Italian-born photographer Francesco Mastalia has lived on the East Coast since the age of 2, first in New Jersey, and for the last 10 years in the Hudson Valley. His first book, a photo documentary on the history of dreadlocks that includes an introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, is now in its eighth printing. Works from his highly acclaimed second book, “Organic: Farmers & Chefs of the Hudson Valley,” are included in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress. Mastalia has just released his third book, “Yoga: The Secret of Life”, and selected prints from it can be viewed through January at The Moviehouse Gallery in Millerton, New York.
Early on in my life I went to school to study music, but thought ‘I have to practice all the time. Why should I work, when I can just take pictures?’ I went to photography school and started assisting photographers of food, fashion, architecture and portraits. I got to work with the top advertising photographers. I’ve traveled around the world, and it’s been pretty amazing. The camera is a tool that gave me access to places and people — it becomes life-changing — and I get excited to share these projects.
I’ve lived in Rhinebeck for the past three years, close to the Omega Institute, which was the start of this idea for me. I told them what I was doing and asked to photograph the world-renowned yogis who traveled there. They opened their doors to me. More than 80 of the photos in the book were taken in the Hudson Valley. Yogis from Canada to India to Sweden visit the ashrams, temples and workshops here.
I use a 165-year-old photographic technique, so I basically bring a portable darkroom with me. It’s not the easiest set-up to travel with, and sometimes the cost to travel overseas is prohibitive. I thought it would take 3 years to finish this project, but it took only 18 months. I spent a few months working on the writing — I videotape the interviews and use the same words the subject uses. Different people from around the world have different ways of speaking. I want the reader to have the same experience I had.
I’d never practiced yoga as we know it, but I didn’t question why I wanted to spend the next few years of my life on something I knew nothing about. Most people in the West see yoga as a physical practice, but out of the 108 yogis I photographed not one person defined it as a physical practice. This book really gets to the core of what yoga is and what yoga truly means. It started as a journey to capture the physical aspect — the potential of the human body, the strength, grace and beauty of the human body is the visual that inspired me to begin this project — but it evolved very quickly. I had some of the greatest yogis in front of me, so I used the opportunity to ask “what is our purpose?”