“I wanted to be able to have more yoga with me when I wasn’t in the studio,” JJ says. JJ started doing yoga to help with the physical ailments his work was causing. His friends were opening a studio, so he took a few classes and got hooked. Later, he picked up the Yoga Studio app to fit his unpredictable schedule, which doesn’t allow him to stick to a regular gym routine. The app also allowed him to build his own pose sequences, either to target specific areas for strength or stretching or to replicate a particularly good class so he could repeat it on the road or on his own time. When JJ was little, he chewed on film canisters instead of baby toys and played with his dad’s tripods when they were left lying around. Photography became a hobby in high school, a passion in college, and a business when he graduated. Now his photography company is celebrating its ten-year anniversary.
Photography always resonated with JJ. “It lets me discover facets of my world that I wasn’t plugged into,” he explains. That pursuit of the unseen dimensions of life is what inspired the How Philly Moves project. How Philly Moves is a community-based public art project. “The concept, basically,” says JJ, “is to celebrate our community through the shared love of dance. The only requirements to participate were that you self-identified as a Philadelphian who loved to dance.”
Participants were brought into JJ’s studio and told to dance however they wanted, with no further instruction provided. Some brought their own music, some brought a friend to play drums, and some danced in silence. Subjects ranged from toddlers to the elderly. Some were in wheelchairs. “There was social dance and performative dance and students and professionals, and people who only dance in nightclubs or at weddings or in their kitchens when they think no one’s watching,” he recalls.
With JJ’s unique and dynamic style of photography comes pitfalls, though. “I started to realize that there was a lot with what I do with photography that is rough on my body,” JJ says. “I never really had any training in how to be kind to my body and how to use it, or how to counter all of the strange tensions that come in with the contortions involved with putting a camera out there in the world.” Doing yoga regularly helps him with strength and flexibility, and taught him how to recognize what his body was feeling.There’s a psychological aspect to JJ’s practice as well. Yoga began to ground him, in contrast to the frenetic style and pace of professional photography. By slowing his mind down and forcing him to relax and focus, yoga offers JJ a brief respite from the chaos of how his field has evolved. “The darkroom used to be this quiet, contemplative space for photographers,” he recalls. “Digital caters to the fast and manic side that wants to take 2,000 pictures today and put them online by tomorrow morning, and do it again and again and again.”
“Photography involves being present in a different way,” he says. “You’re kind of out of your body thinking about what’s going to line up where and what’s going to happen next. You’re not actually present in the moment, you’re present in the five seconds from now.” By contrast, “A lot of what yoga’s about is not being worried about the past or what’s about to happen, but just being with your breath and this moment and that’s a practice I found really valuable.”