By Nadia Ismail
Today’s multicoloured technological world sees us constantly tapping away at our mobile or computer screens, even when meeting socially.
In her latest series, Egyptian photographer Mireille El-Magrissy contrasts society’s dependence on technology with its quest for greater meaning by capturing people using technology while practising yoga.
The series, called iYoga, presents the divide between spiritual practice and Technicolour living, turning it “into a concept that people could relate to in this yoga-enlightened, technology-crazed age”, she said.
Egypt’s youth are quickly latching onto the tech-wave, with many using this medium as a means of self-expression and for helping establish their individuality.
Ministry of Communications and Information Technology statistics show that in 2013 as much as 88% of Egyptians owned a mobile phone. Of that number, and despite only 6% of mobile phone owners having a smartphone, the ministry says just over 37% use their phones for surfing the internet.
Yoga is an intensely introspective practice that contradicts the over-sharing one frequently finds online, El-Magrissy said. The juxtaposition of the two points of view encourages the viewer to redefine their use of technology and the amount of time they spend in deep self-reflection.
“I found it very interesting to merge two seemingly polar elements together,” she said. “Observing the people around me, and the way their bodies contort … this struck a connection in my mind. Their body language was both robotic and spiritual. At the same time, there is something bizarre about these contradictions and the way the light from a device can create several stories in one moment .”
After finishing a law degree in the United Kingdom, El-Magrissy found herself gravitating towards a more creative path, that of photography.
By using a series of black and white photographs, Al-Magrissy hoped to align the distractions of technology with the steady nature of the yoga postures, she said. This blending together forms the basis of bring a “focus to the internal struggle experienced on a day-to-day basis”.
“Drowning in information, stories and pictures, we sometimes need to slow down our senses, to disconnect and reflect privately,” El-Magrissy said, adding that too much introspection is “counter-productive”.
The search for balance in daily life is a very present theme throughout the series.
“The steadying process of rising and falling and finding your own balance and flow, was present in the making of this project,” El-Magrissy said. “Watching how each pose evolved in relation to the devices and how it would come together, made me reflect on my own shortcomings, my impatience and sometimes, indifference, when practicing.”
Just as Egypt’s internet penetration is rated at 44% of the population, according to 2012 statistics, Al-Magrissy describes her own relationship with technology as “tumultuous”.
“I am one of those people that functions in phases, so my approach to technology continuously changes, and I think I can say that this project does reflect that,” she said. “There is conflict and comfort, there is solitude and reliance, attachment and independence in each of those poses.”
El-Magrissy sees technology’s wider social influence as a mixed blessing, particularly after the 25 January Revolution. Allowing people to define their spheres of influence and comfort level, she says: “Post revolution, there has been a defining change in the way that we mingle and perceive barriers.”
It has allowed people the chance for “revaluating responses, reconnecting with core values and understanding priorities and preoccupations”. It has also brought to the surface deep-rooted fears, making society more guarded.