This week on the Community series, I’m talking about a photographer whose work contains masterful storytelling. Mandeep first caught my eye with his Yoga photos. I started seeing his work right about the time I was transitioning from part-time Yoga teacher to Photographer. I remember thinking, “Man! If I had created yoga photos like that I might have gotten more students!” (Side Note: I live in a small community and acquiring new students was tough, but those students I did have were awesome. I miss them still.) Mandeep has a really creative eye and his images tell you stories in subtle ways. So let’s explore how he does this.
It occurred to me as I began looking at his images today, that I should have included his images in my inspiration for the personal photography project I’ve been working on. I’ve only mentioned it so far, but I will begin posting about it when I have more images made. But it’s not too late to add him to my list of inspirations as I’m still at the beginning of this journey!
Mandeep uses a technique called chiaroscuro in his work which is very similar to the tenebrism I am trying to achieve in my project. Chiaroscuro, an Italian word meaning light and dark, is essentially strong contrast in an image or a painting that gives you a sense of three-dimensionality and drama. His characters pop off the screen. Tenebrism takes that tonality a bit deeper to the point that shadow detail is lost. These tonalities were common among artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio.
So let’s break down his masterful storytelling by breaking it down image by image.
Can we just say, “wow?” I’m certain that there isn’t a yoga teacher out there who wouldn’t be moved by this image. If I’m ever in Brampton, Ontario, I’m certainly going to be looking up @hotyogawellnessbrampton. I would LOVE to practice in that space! Mandeep obviously had a wonderful scene to work with but I firmly believe that most photographers would have attempted to shoot this with the “Light and Airy” feel that is common in the yoga industry. Yoga is so much deeper and, in some ways darker, than that. It asks you to plumb your own depths and discover who you are and what you believe. It isn’t just stretching on a mat.
This image is so magnificent because of his use of light. Not only did he silhouette his subject with a backlight, but he also lights up the majestic mural! Lighting this way helps to tell a meaningful story about what yoga is. We each have the capacity to be brave and to be kind. I love that the light ties the lion and elephant to the yogi. In fact, it looks like the yogi is the source of that light. It’s so powerful! I also love the fact that he took this in the monochrome direction. While pops of colour are often my jam, this creates a more stripped-down, vulnerable feel that serves it well.
Another deeply powerful image. I’m noticing a trend of spirituality in his work, are you? The white robes signify a spiritual leader. The man could be a priest, a monk, or (if you think like me) a wizard. They suggest that the character is someone who has a purity of thought and deed but isn’t so specific as to name a particular faith. Such a simple detail that lets the audience create that story in their own minds. The haze in the room provides an excellent atmosphere of mystery and highlights the light streaming in from the window. Overall, it creates a dreamy, surreal quality to the scene.
And the story doesn’t stop there! As you examine the shadows, you note the books and the art adorning the shelves and walls. These elements provide a sense of someone who is learned and creative. Layers. So many layers! All the little details contributing to the story! Clearly, Mandeep took the time to assess the space and determine what to include to tell the story he wanted to tell.
Simply moving. This is likely my favourite of the three I’ve shared. All of which are incredible. But this one, as simple as it is, tells a much bigger story. A story of ethnicity, tradition, and mystery. This is a beautiful portrait that tells you a great deal about the woman but keeps her shrouded in mystery. This invites you to ask questions. What does the veil mean? What is she thinking? Where is she from? What significance do the coins have? And maybe some ideas of your own form and that brings you into the story even more.
Many cultures in the Middle East encourage women to cover their hair and faces. I will be honest and admit that I don’t fully understand the whys of it. I’ve always thought it had something to do with both modesty and intimacy. Modesty in keeping prying eyes away and intimacy in sharing your full self with only your loved one. I think there is a beautiful mystery in it for those who honour the tradition. Ultimately, these questions provoke thought and invite you to explore what you don’t know or understand. Anything that encourages you to seek more information, to enlighten yourself, has successfully involved you in its story. Very well done!
There is just so much masterful storytelling in these three images (as well as the first six that we didn’t talk about) that I will be studying his images for weeks! However, I have learned that it pays to spend time assessing the scene you have to work with and planning what you think needs to be included and excluded from the scene. Mandeep has shown that you can create depth and interest in any available space which is an extremely important tool to have in your kit as a photographer. I will also spend some time working on “backlighting” since two of the images utilized it. (It’s very, very subtle in that last image, but I’m pretty sure that’s what gives the beautiful edge to her hair scarf.)
Here are a few images of my own that employ tenebrism and/or tell a story.
I am currently working on setting up a print shop, but if you are interested in purchasing a print of any of the top three images, contact me at https://mcdermottimages.ca/contact or email me at email@example.com for prices, sizes, and options.
Oh and I think is a pretty awesome backlit image, what do you think? Ok, technically it’s lighting my front but you get what I mean.