Remembering the first photo session I had with Osho.
I’m looking at this ant walking on the immaculately clean marble floor. She looks pretty busy, and it looks like she really knows where she’s going. I’m just watching her and waiting…waiting for Osho to walk in from that open door and meet him in a private setting for the first time (I’m talking about the physical plane). I can’t quite believe that I’m sitting here and in just a few moments I’m going to namasté my master and then take some photos of him.
This was sometime around January 1987, and I had arrived in Pune ten days before on my second visit to India and the ashram. Soon after my arrival I had been approached by Avikal, another Italian photographer. He told me that he had been asked to take some pictures of Osho, but the photo session needed to be done indoors, because Osho was a little sick in those days. It also needed to be done with artificial lights, but no flashes, because his eyes were already suffering as a result of the poison that was given to him in the US jails. Avikal had been mainly an outdoor photographer with little experience of studio lighting, and he had heard that I had been working since a few years in Italy as a studio photographer. He asked me if I would be into setting up a studio and taking some photos of Osho together with him.
Well, guess what I answered? “YES!”
So the following week I set up a studio in what later became Osho’s dentist room, next door to his bedroom. If you have ever visited the samadhi, you had to walk through it. I had to be creative, because the equipment and lights I found in India were quite obsolete, but it was a lot of fun. In the end we had what seemed to be a real studio situation with lights that looked just the way I liked them to be in my studio in Italy.
A couple of days before the scheduled session they told me that Nirvano, Osho’s caretaker, wanted to meet me. I met her briefly inside Lao Tzu gate, and I remember her looking intensely into my eyes, as if probing deep into my soul. We then smiled at each other, and that, I guess, was her blessing. I later came to know that she would often meet people who were to come in close physical proximity with Osho for the first time, to get a feel for them. I guess she was acting as a kind of pre-filter.
The day before the session - after choosing from Osho’s wardrobe what he would wear - we went in and set up the lights the way I liked them to be, with a strong contrast between shadows and hi lights but without getting too hard and - as we did not have a Polaroid with us - Avikal took a test shot of me so that I could develop it that same day and have time to change anything if I wasn’t happy with the lighting (picture below).
Me in 1987 the day before the first photo shooting with Osho
So the day of the session I feel well prepared and as I wait for Osho to walk into the room I look at the setup around me and feel quite proud – it looks almost professional. There is a vibrant sense of anticipation in the air, and the silence is broken only by the quiet hum of the air-conditioning system. The room is kept below 15°C (approx. 60°F), therefore, I’m wearing socks, long pants, and a sweater in spite of the warm weather outside. I notice that I’m feeling very calm and cool, even though I know that in a few seconds I am going to meet the man who has played the most important role in my life.
I cannot hide that I feel proud of this sense of calmness and centeredness…and then, suddenly, he walks in...and it’s like a sun just entered the room. I am feeling really hot, my heart is beating fast, and my hands are sweating. (Hey, what happened to the centeredness?)
I have to start taking off my sweater and socks while he is still standing and greeting everyone in
In 1987 the day before the first photo shooting with Osho
the room: Avikal, Mutribo with his video camera, Anando, and Shunyo who is in charge of combing his beard and stuff like that, like an art director would do in a professional photo studio.
As Osho finally stands right in front of me, I am surprised to see how short he is; he always appeared to me so tall and big when he would walk into Buddha Hall.
He sits on the chair that I had prepared for him. I look into the camera, getting ready to take the first shot, but I realize I have put the chair in the wrong place: the angle of the light falling on his face is not good. So I have to break the ice (my own) right away and, feeling quite embarrassed, I ask him if he could stand up again because I want to move the chair. He promptly and gracefully stands up; I move the chair and go back to my Hasselblad on the tripod. The light is now okay and Avikal and I start taking a few shots, each of us with his own camera (I am doing the black and white and he is doing the color), but I soon have to face the fact that Osho is not moving at all and unless we do something to change the situation, we are going to take 60 or more pictures in the next 45 minutes that are going to look all exactly the same!
So here I am, having to tell my master to ‘just do something’ after all the years he told me just the opposite...but somehow there is no way out, so I gather the courage and start asking him if he can cross his legs, move his arms, or look in this or that different direction, and so on. Every time, after having done what I told him to, he looks at me (or into the camera) and asks, “Is it okay like this?” in what seems to me the most soft, innocent, and sweet voice I have ever heard.
The man sitting in front of me feels very different from the one I had seen on the podium in Buddha Hall talking to us. That one was The Master, the charismatic leader wearing his Merlin outfit and giving me the image I wanted and needed from him in that moment. The one sitting in front of me now is an incredibly gentle, innocent, vulnerable, simple, child-like being… I remembered hearing him talk in several discourses about ordinariness, and I remember how I had not really been able to relate that quality to him in my mind. I had always made him very special and now, standing in front of him, that projection suddenly pops like a soap bubble. In front of me now I can only see utter ordinariness, and an incredible warmth that comes from being a simple, vulnerable, loving human being.
Something in me clicks as I feel, “He is an ordinary man like I am... and just as he reached his full flowering, I will too”
That was a very precious understanding for me: to be able to see the man in him and therefore closing the huge gap that my projections had created between us.
At a certain point I start feeling a very strong pressure in my belly, around my hara center. At first I think I have to loosen up my belt but as I move my hands to release it I realize I am not wearing a belt! So I keep working but the pressure keeps increasing. An unusual pull of just wanting to lie down flat on the ground with my belly on the floor is arising in me, but how can I do that in front of Osho and while I am doing my work? (Now I know he would have probably loved it and had a good chuckle at me, but in that moment I didn’t dare following my guts - literally speaking.)
As a compromise I take the opportunity of the film coming to an end in my camera to sit down on the floor to change the film. That brings some relief to my belly - to just be sitting in contact with the floor. I take as long as I can to change that film as part of me does not want to get up. But my rationale mind kicks in and says ‘Shastro, get to work, you are wasting precious time!’ And so I do get up and continue shooting feeling a little better in my belly.
After about ten more minutes, to create some variety in the images, I tell him that I had this idea to put a fan blowing on his side so that it would create a nice flowing movement on his beard.
“A fan?” he asks in reply with an unconcealed frown on his face.
It’s clear that, for whatever reason, he doesn’t like the idea so I back up and say, “Actually, I don’t think it’s a great idea, let’s drop the fan.”
“It’s okay,” he replies, “Let’s put the fan on…”
“We don’t really need the fan,” I say.
“No, no, let’s put the fan on,” he says.
“I really don’t think it’s needed,” I say...and then with my relief he finally seems to give up the idea while we keep taking more photos.
After a few more shots he turns toward Anando and Shunyo and says, “Please, go to my room and get my Italian Mafia sunglasses.” - these were some really cool glasses with dark, mirrored lenses he had in those days.
Osho with his mafia sunglasses and Shunyo (photo by Avikal)
As the girls leave the room, he turns to me and says: “Let’s put the fan on now.”
I chuckle and give up, turn on the fan next to him, look in the camera, and see him frowning and trying somehow to keep his eyes open, with his beard flowing sideways. He is obviously not enjoying it, so we take a couple of shots, and then I turn the fan off. (Believe it or not, one of those shots had been used quite a lot for some of the meditation cassette covers.)
What really touched me in this incident of the fan was to see that no matter what he liked, he wanted me to do what I thought would be good, and he didn’t want to create any interference in that process. He just wanted me to go for what I felt was right, in spite of his own preferences...
After taking quite a few juicy shots with him wearing his Italian mafioso sunglasses, I decide to double-check the values of the light to make sure nothing had changed and I am not over or under-exposing the film. In order to do this, I have to get very close to him and hold the little light meter in front of his face. So I walk behind his chair and I have to lean forward and almost embrace him from behind to take the reading of the light falling on his face. While I am doing this, I notice that his hands, that he is holding gracefully together with his elbows on the armrests, shake for a moment. Here the shit breaks loose inside of me, and I start telling myself that I should not have gone that close to him, that my energy was not “clean” enough, that I invaded him with my ‘gross’ energy, that I was too tense and I fucked it up…and so on.
These feelings persist inside of me, not only for the rest of the session, but for the rest of the night too. Lying on my bed that night, I can hardly sleep, thinking about how I could have done something like that – almost giving Osho a hug without asking him!
The next morning I am in the darkroom developing the film and still feeling like shit about it, when somebody knocks at the door and tells me that Anando (Osho’s secretary) is out there and wants to ask me something.
So I walk out with a heavy weight on my chest, waiting to hear that I really fucked it up with Osho...
“After the photo session Osho asked me what your name was, but I couldn’t recall it,” she tells me. “Shastro,” I say, still waiting for the hit to come. “Oh yes, Shastro! He said he really liked you!”
As both my hands move to my chest of their own free will, I feel the incredible weight leaving my heart in a flash and, with a big smile on my face, I walk back to the darkroom, my feet not quite touching the floor.
This episode allowed me to see a facet of my personality that I was not aware it even existed: Unworthiness was not a quality I could relate to myself. But a Master is like a huge magnify lens, a big mirror put in front of you that allows you to see yourself in the smallest details.
While I’m printing the pictures in the dim red light – looking at his image slowly appearing on the photographic paper as if by magic – I have a sense that during the photo session he knew all the time what was going on inside of me and, after the session, he told Anando (directly or indirectly) to come and tell me that I was okay.
Whew! Thank you Osho for your compassion and for saving me from quite a few years of mind-fucking!