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May 07
Arts and Poetry, Opinion Pieces
Union of Dharma and Art

photos and article by Dana Marshall

In my last year of high school in Boulder, Colorado (1978), at 16 years old I had completed all the required courses so I had the opportunity to focus on what really interested me which was painting, photography, ceramics and mythology. I took a year off between high school and College and did a month long meditation retreat at Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center. Unbeknownst to myself the Shambhala buddha-dharma entered my bloodstream but I wanted to be an artist not a buddhist! I attended the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City from 1980 until 1985 and graduated with an outstanding student award and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography.

It took some time for me to discover what kind of a photographer I am. One of my teachers told me to lock myself in an empty room alone with my camera and not to come out until all the film was exposed. I found myself slightly panicked and wanting to crawl under a table and hide. A light went off inside which was to photograph myself hiding. That was the beginning of finding my voice as a photographer. I did self-portraits for the next year and then it became clear that I needed to get out of the way of my own work. I left the set and continued to photograph the environments I had created. Photographing my own created environments continues until this day.

After graduating from SVA I worked in the field for three years as an assistant to various photographers. The crème de la crème job before I moved to Amsterdam was assistant photographer at Tiffany’s, a store renowned for their fine jewelry and their opulent stained glass windows. On the weekends they permitted me to use their studio for my own work. I became familiar with large format cameras and strobe lighting and produced a portfolio which helped me to get accepted into the graduate program at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. During this time I made a cultural and an aesthetic shift. I had worked previously in black and white but after moving to Holland I turned to color.

In 1988, eleven years after my first retreat, I returned to Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and attended a three month Buddhist Seminary. I met my future husband, Rein, at seminary and moved to Holland in 1989. We were married the following year and in 1994 had our daughter Ana. We are currently living in a small village outside of Amsterdam.

In 2003 I made a deep connection with Vinyasa and Yin Yoga and have been practicing it ever since. Yoga means union and it has helped me further join dharma with art. As a practitioner of the Bodhisattva path I have learned that one does not receive medals, one just does one’s job. I realize that my job is to make art and not make a big deal out of it.
Just do it!

The following selection is from Naked Stills (2009). To see the whole body of work go to: http://www.dmarshall.nl/nakedstills.htm

Yoga inspired this series. The project uses the asanas (postures) to explore yoga from the inside out. The asanas are a vessel; a shape into which the body is poured. Yoga means union; to join and it is this union that underlies the visual exploration in these photographs. Several unions are taking place: The naked female form is protected by a transparent layer of material. Concealing reveals more. The juxtaposition of a still life with a figure, an interplay between the animate and the inanimate. The power of surrender, being strong and vulnerable at the same time.

Click below to see a slideshow:

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2 responses to “ Union of Dharma and Art ”
  1. Exquisite photos and excellent story of personal discovery. Interesting how Holland brought you to color – and buddhism & yoga impacted your photography so strongly. These images are organic and abstract, yet still remind one of the simple connection of form between objects. Your vision is so specific to your journey – both aesthetically and spiritually.

  2. Robert W French
    May 7, 2012

    Great photographs! I especially like the brilliant colors and textures you were able to capture. The spinal twist reminds me of all the odalisques painted by Titian, Rubens, Ingres, etc. Could I use this image in my art history lecture on the female form?
    Yours in the dharma,

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