Amidst the rich imagery on display at the Griffin Museum of Photography’s Winter Solstice Exhibit is a rather quiet photograph. One which so elegantly captures motion of some sort. Fluid motion. Throughout the exhibit’s recent opening reception the framed image hung surrounded by admirers and was quickly claimed for purchase. At once it had me and a sea of others swept away. As I inched closer I was able to identify six, maybe seven subjects clad in garments of white and flowing in joyous revolution. The fluidity the artist had captured, the sacred space in which the subjects twirled, the soft light… in concert they rendered a soft-spoken masterpiece. Still curious, I canvassed the gallery in search of the artist and the photograph’s backstory.
In a (short) matter of time my mission was accomplished. The composer of the image, Andrew Janjigian had been found. A writer by day and photographer by night/weekend, he humbly unpacked for me the picture in question. The photograph had been taken exactly a year ago at a traditional Sufi whirling dervish ceremony he had attended in Istanbul. “Sufism is a mystical and ascetic branch of Islam dedicated to the purification of the self through contemplation of the divine, and Sufi whirling is a form of active meditation intended to break down the ego, unite the dancer with God, and let him or her serve as a conduit for the divine to enter humanity.” Mr. Janjigian was drawn to capturing the practice with his lens as he felt the whirling illustrated a side of Islam, Sufism, largely unknown in our ” Muslimophobic society”. A contrasting facet that deeply embodies the notion of Islam as a religion of peace. As so often is the case with art while listening to the photographer I was struck by the power of gesture, in this case a 16X20 image, and the teachable moments that we all have to offer through tapping into our gifts.
Speaking of gifts… As I chatted further with Mr. Janjigian he explained to me that he was selling a limited run of the coveted print and that all proceeds from its sale would go to benefit the countless number of Syrian’s displaced by their homes and fleeing to escape the brutal conflict in their native land. “Sufism originated in Anatolia, the region of Turkey just north of Syria, and it is there to which the greatest numbers of Syrians have fled from persecution and war. This print seemed like the natural offering for the Prints for Refugees fund drive.” He added that, “Several days after I took this photo, we witnessed firsthand the squalor of the camps along the roads just north of the Syrian border.”
In the Sanskrit language, the term bhakti is loosely defined as “devotional service.” The beloved yogi Raghunath teaches, “When love is behind the current, it’s bhakti.” He was referring to yoga largely, but in Mr. Janjigian’s compassionate gesture we are reminded that bhakti can also breathe through the lens of a camera. How wonderful to witness the concept extend creatively into other forms of practice, particularly at this time of the year. The Winter Solstice Exhibit is on display daily (free and open to the public) at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester. You can see more of Andrew Janjigian’s work on his website.
Compiled by Susan Currie