Andy Richter is a photographer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota whose work embodies his desire to see past surface illusions to a deeper, more universal truth. Richter immerses himself in his subject and its wider context, exploring such themes as aging and loss, self and cultural transformation, and spirituality with the heightened awareness that the camera brings. Far from a neutral observer, he is emotionally and experientially invested in his subjects, and uses color and light to engage the viewer and evoke inner experience.
Richter studied photography at the University of Minnesota and graduated with honors with degrees in Spanish and Psychology in 1999. He spent the next several years climbing and photographing the great mountain ranges of the world, where he feels he learned how to really see. Upon returning to Minnesota in 2006, his focus shifted from landscape photography to experiential documentary and portraiture. His current work, Serpent in the Wilderness, a monograph published in 2018 with Kehrer Verlag, sheds new light on the ancient science of yoga, documenting rarely seen aspects across different cultures. He is also experimenting with alternative processes and technologies.
Richter’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. He has received numerous awards and been recognized by American Photography, Photolucida, the International Photography Awards, and the Minnesota State Arts Board. His clients include The New York Times, GEO, Time, Smithsonian, The Washington Post, AFAR, Mother Jones, UN Women, The Trust for Public Land and UNICEF.
A yogini lies in savasana or ‘corpse pose’ at Yogi Yoga in Beijing. The Chinese people have engaged in mind body practices for centuries, yet the state has been slow to embrace yoga as a method of personal realization and liberation, suspicious of activity that could undermine the collective order. Today, the official stance appears to be shifting. Mohan Bhandari, the founder of Yogi Yoga, the country’s most popular chain of studios, said that yoga is growing 20% annually.
Students at Miri Piri Academy in Amritsar, India, practice Kundalini yoga in the reflection of Yogi Bhajan. In Kundalini yoga, there are thousands of kriyas consisting of postures, pranayama (breath techniques), and meditations. Kriyas are often maintained for substantial periods of time, allowing the mind to give way to the body’s wisdom, to transcend ego, and clear limiting beliefs and patterns within.
Following two and a half days of White Tantric Yoga, yogis in New Mexico take a blind walk through the arid landscape. With eyes closed, the group is led by a leader who calls out “Wahe Guru” while those following respond “Wahe Guru”, an expression of ecstatic awe of the divine, sharing aloud the experience of going from darkness to light, from ignorance to true understanding.
Krishna devotees prostrate during their circumambulation of Govardhan Hill, near Govardhan, India. Moving one stone her body’s length with each prostration (of 108 stones), the devotee in the foreground’s parikrama, or walk around the sacred hill, will require 12 years to complete. Her bhakti, or devotion to Krishna, keeps her moving forward.
A young devotee blesses pilgrims along the Govardhan parikrama, where Krishna is believed to have spent much of his youth. According to the 10th Canto of Shrimad Bhagavatam, after Krishna protected the inhabitants of Vraj (Vrindavan) from the wrath of Indra, he counseled them to worship the holy hill through puja and parikrama.
Serpent in the Wilderness
Serpent in the Wilderness is a photographic exploration of yoga. This ancient Indian science has deep roots in Hindu mythology and doctrine, yet today it is mainstream, global and growing in popularity. In Sanskrit, the word ‘yoga’ signifies connection or union and is associated with heightened awareness of oneself. It is a set of practices for realization and a state of being. While the external form and the context may vary–from turban-wearing Sikhs of the kundalini tradition, to chanting bhakti yogis of the Krishna Consciousness movement, to spandex clad urban yogis sweating in the studio—all practices point toward greater awareness, a peaceful mind, a healthy body and a compassionate heart.
Over five years, I have traveled to places that are historically relevant to its past and others that embody its present, working with many of the world’s great yogis. From living rooms across America to ashrams and caves throughout India, the work reveals hidden layers and rarely seen dimensions of yoga. Despite yoga’s worldwide growth and appeal, understanding and media attention tends to be superficial, focused on celebrity yogis, or on the physical, commercial, and health aspects of the practice. Yet this project suggests it is something more: a profound spiritual path and way of life that is both accessible and transcends cultural barriers.
At Krishna Balaram temple in Vrindavan, India, one experiences the essence of bhakti yoga. With great love and devotion, and frequently tears of joy in their eyes, devotees from around the globe come to the ISKCON temple to dance, sing in kirtan, and shower flowers upon statues of Radha and Krishna, and the late bhakti master and founder of Krishna consciousness, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Meditation on the Yamuna River at Keshi Ghat in Vrindavan. Krishna is believed to have bathed here after killing the demon Keshi, who symbolizes pride in ones devotional practices, vanity and ego. Bhakti yogis curtail such tendencies through chanting and humble service.
A sadhu practices Plavini Pranayama while floating on the Shipra River during the Kumbh Mela in Ujjain, India. In this breath exercise, the blood flows rapidly in the body, removing impurities and accumulated toxins. It is said that yogis who master this pranayama can sustain life for days without food.
Yogis practice asana as the sun rises during Summer Solstice Sadhana, a yoga festival at Ram Das Puri in New Mexico. A group of singing minstrels, led by Guru Singh, walks through camp at 3 a.m. each morning encouraging all to “rise up” for morning sadhana, a two and a half hour series of meditations, mantras and postures to begin the day. Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini yoga to the West from India in 1968, taught that daily practice is essential for personal spiritual development.
A monk in the Krishna-bhakti lineage practices urdhva mukha svanasana on the roof of Radha Gopinath Temple in Mumbai, India, while another devotee chants the maha mantra in walking meditation. Brahmacharis wear saffron to symbolize their renunciation and commitment to live in selfless service to others.
Morning invocation during a retreat at the Self-Realization Fellowship hermitage in Encinitas, California. Paramahansa Yogananda founded the SRF in 1920 and is author of the yoga classic, “Autobiography of a Yogi”, which he wrote while living at the hermitage that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
Bhandari Baba, a silent yogi for over 10 years, meditates in his cave in the foothills above Rishikesh, India. Bhandari eats plants he finds in the forest or foods visitors to bring him, primarily communicating through hand gestures. For millennia, sages and saints have come to the area for meditation and self-realization. The observation of silence, or mauna, allows the mind to settle and awareness to turn inward.
Radha and Krishna on the television at Mauni Baba Ashram near Neelkanth, India.
Pujaris await pilgrims bearing prayers and offerings on the Shipra River during the Kumbh Mela in Ujjain.
Thousands of yogis practice asana during a early morning class at Red Rocks Amphitheater near Morrison, Colorado. Approximately 3000 attended the sold out event, “Yoga on the Rocks”.
Asana class at Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, April 2, 2016.
Neem Karoli Baba Ashram in Vrindavan. Guru to Steve Jobs, Ram Dass, Krishna Das and many others, Neem Karoli Baba continues to draw devotees well after his passing in 1973. The Vrindavan ashram contains the late guru’s samadhi shrine, where his body was cremated upon a sandlewood fire.
Jim Davis meditates in his Vasthu home (a traditional Hindu system of architecture), in Fairfield, Iowa. A conscious community, Fairfield has been home to Maharishi University of Management since 1974 and hosts the golden dome–the world’s largest training center for practitioners of Transcendental Meditation.
Sunrise on the Ganges River during Mauni Amavasya Snan, the primary bathing day of the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad.
Meditation pods lie overgrown and abandoned on the banks of the Ganges River at Chaurasi Kutia Ashram, also known as “The Beatles Ashram”, near Rishikesh. In 1968, the band visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation (TM) training course. Their adoption of the Maharishi as their guru is credited by many for changing attitudes in the West about Indian spirituality and yoga.
Young devotees in the Samadhi Mandir of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada at Krishna Balaram Temple in Vrindavan.
B.K.S. Iyengar in savasana at Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India. Iyengar is responsible for sharing yoga with arguably more human beings than any other person in history. Traditionally, yoga was passed directly from guru to student in an intimate relationship; Iyengar brought yoga to a classroom context, changing its trajectory forever. An honor to photograph, Iyengar passed away on August 20, 2014. Up to his 95th year, he practiced asana daily and shared his vast knowledge and experience with his students.
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