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Yoga: The Art of Transformation

Group of Yogis
approx. 1880s
By Colin Murray (English, active 1871–1884)
Albumen print

Collection of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, 2011.02.02.0004

Wandering yogis were handy subjects for commercial photography studios keen on satisfying a European appetite for the exotic. As backdrops and props became more elaborate, the subjects’ true yogic identities became increasingly less certain.

This photograph focuses on people presented as yogis against a painted jungle scene with potted plants and a grass mat. Though this studio portrait may seem standard—staged poses, deliberate lighting—the tall figure second from the right may not be a yogi at all. He wears white body markings—four horizontal stripes—that bear no relationship to any Hindu tradition.