While the serenity of yoga and the hyper-alertness of technology may seem like poles apart, Egyptian photographer Mirelle El Magrissy's latest work questions what is increasingly a more intimate relationship between our bodies and our devices.
They seem like two opposite worlds, yoga, and technology. You can’t reach transcendence by Tweeting or find flexibility through Facebook. Whilst yoga may keep you grounded and give you a space to breathe, our smart phones and iApps give cause to constant distraction and anxiety. And yet, are the two so oxymoronic? Our need to be connected is simply a manifestation of a spiritual philosophy as old as time, and we find as much refuging from brain chattering in notifications as we do in meditations.
23-year old budding photographer Mireille El Magrissy depicts our excruciatingly intimate relationship with technology in her latest photo series The Modern Yogi. The mesmerising black and white stills feature men and women contorting themselves into complex Yogic shapes whilst maintain focus on a variety of digital companions, blurring the lines between where we start and our phones end. We speak to El Magrissy about her latest works and finding the right balance...
How long have you been into photography? Have you had any previous exhibitions?
My photography series, Lost and Found was part of an exhibition last March titled ‘Layer of Green.’ This exhibition was the outcome of a photography workshop that took place in November, about the environment and environmental changes in the Arab World and the metaphorical notions of being green. It was organised by Goethe Institute Cairo and Contemporary Image Collective, and instructed and curated by photographers Rana El-Nemr and Jens Liebchen. I’m discovering the world of photography, having gotten into it about a year ago. I will be heading to New York in September to study photography, hoping to hone my skills and further explore my interest in storytelling, conceptual and documentary photography.
Was there a specific moment that inspired The Modern Yogi?
There is a certain scene that I always walk into, where I find a friend of mine, lying on her bed, her body encircling the laptop, her curls spread all around it, in complete darkness. There is almost no division between her and the laptop, separated only by a harsh light, reflected onto her face. Her body language is both robotic and spiritual, at the same time. There is something pretty surreal about these contradictions and the way the light from a device can create so many different stories in one moment. I wanted to transform that into a concept that a lot of people could relate to in this yoga-enlightened, technology-crazed age.
As much a technology is constantly fawned at as a distraction from real life, there is a very spiritual element in transcending our need to be connected. Where do you feel one finds the balance?
Finding a balance is up to each person and their emotional temperaments and addictive tendencies. The outlets that have been developed into these devices are great channels for self-expression.We’ve built bridges and found solace in other like-minded people. It also seems that on the other side lay the endless trails of how to lead happier, more wholesome and healthy lives. However, our rate of processing and storing is much slower. And it is important to value that, as individuals, we cannot be standardised and grouped into those “10 Ways to…” articles. For some, yoga may be a way to transcend, for others it may be extreme sports, or knitting, or whatever else. There is no right way. Balance, for me, is about going back to basics all the time. Writing down thoughts, ideas and list susing paper and a pen. Giving a letter to someone to deliver a message instead of using Facebook. Having that physical, personal contact.
How do you feel you have changed cognitively and emotionally since first owning a smart phone until now?
Up until recently I, wasn’t really active virtually and I’m not a very ‘high-tech’ person. So, right now, I don’t have fifty different user-friendly apps making my life easier and more productive. But as I started being able to define my interests, owning a smart phone has created a sense of cognitive and emotional independence. It has helped in breaking down certain anxieties, allowing me to become more outspoken creatively and in sharing my thoughts and exploring others as well. That has been a positive change.
Can you live without your phone for a day?
I’m definitely attached to my phone. Only because I can panic if there’s a perfectly Instagrammable moment in front of me and I don’t have it. It would be hard. But I need to completely disconnect every once in a while to recharge.
Do you practice yoga yourself?
Not regularly, but from time to time I like to, yes.
If you saw a woman taking a selfie while practicing yoga, what would be your first reaction?
I’d think she must be pretty flexible, ha!
What made you decide to go with the minimal black and white scheme for the shoot?
I initially started shooting with a film camera. I really love black and white pictures. For me, the rawness of a black and white image has a richer quality and a deeper essence. That being said, with this concept, it was more about experimenting on the spot. The idea was to have the yogis floating in a four-walled box, almost like they are inside the devices themselves. A minimal scheme achieved that more effectively.
The poses with hardware in the shoot at times seem powerfully sensual, how ambiguous was this?
You wake up with this hardware, go to the bathroom with it and go to bed with it. And spend hours each day reaching into them and connecting through them. There most definitely is an intimate element to our relationship with technology that I wanted to rally across.
Do you have any upcoming projects to look out for?
I’m currently working on a couple of personal stories relating to childhood memories and dream-like fantasies.
Check out the full photo series here.