Portraits of Wandering Ascetic Monks by Photographer Joey L


Brooklyn-based photographer Joey L has spent years working on an amazing set of portraits titled “Holy Men,” which features religious ascetics from around the world.

Joey traveled to India (for the third time) in March 2011 and spent a month creating more photos of wandering monks in Varanasi, the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hinduism and one of the oldest cities in the world. The subjects are men who have renounced all earthly possessions in their pursuit of spiritual liberation.

Traveling along with Joey were filmmaker Cale Glendening and photographer Ryan McCarney, Joey’s assistant. Glendening captured behind-the-scenes footage throughout the month, and later turned the video into a 40-minute documentary film titled “Beyond.” It was released a week ago and has since been selected as a Vimeo Staff Pick after quickly being viewed tens of thousands of times:

Here’s what Joey as to say about these latest images in his project:

I began the Holy Men collection with a photo series from the North of Ethiopia focusing on Coptic Christianity. In this new series, Sadhus and religious students are the featured subjects. Although Coptic Christian monks and Sadhus live in different corners of the world, the connection all these subjects have to each other is profound. Almost every major religion breeds ascetics; wandering monks who have renounced all earthly possessions, dedicating their lives to the pursuit of spiritual liberation. Their reality is dictated only by the mind, not material objects. Even death is not a fearsome concept, but a passing from the world of illusion.

There is a large focus on Aghori, an intense sect of Sadhu infamous for overcoming all things taboo. They may meditate on corpses, eat human flesh as part of a sacred ritual, or keep a skull as a reminder of the impermanence of life.

Here is a selection of the photographs in the Holy Men series so far (some captured during the trip documented above, and some not):












Joey has also written up some background information in a blog post if you’d like to learn more about the city, the culture, and the subjects in these photographs. You can follow along with Joey’s latest work through his blog and his Twitter account.

Image credits: Photographs by Joey L and used with permission

  • jrseaman

    I have been watching Joey’s work since he started and I am always impressed with it. He has really mastered balancing the ND filter, sunlight, and strobe. Good work.

  • Joe Gunawan

    I absolutely love Joey’s work. Been following him for a while, as well.

  • Julian Callan

    Great stuff.

  • Francesca Snelling

    The commitment to this kind of story pays off. Great inspiration, thank you!

  • Syuaip

    Holy smokes! Awesome…

  • 11

    I am a fan of this photographer suchet, who has captured some stunning images: gogole ffor: pbase khunchild naka_baba

  • Rabi Abonour

    Watched this a few days ago – really cool. Joey’s doing some cool work. It’s nice to see someone who had such a big break into the commercial world spending time on documentary projects.

  • Amit Majumder

    I am from India and the way you guys have portrayed this stuff gave me the chills. Really loved it.

  • madmax

    Nothing to be admired in these “monks”, but the portraits are very good.

  • Aaro Keipi

    Don’t forget that Joey L. just turned 23. This kid is unbelievable.

  • Dominik Muench

    absolutely fantastic work, every single shot of the series. India is such an amazing place, you can point a camera almost anywhere and capture something exciting.

  • carlos vegas

    Marvellous. Congratulations great work…!!! A+

  • Dilip Param

    Wow. Very nice work. One month must have been a great experience for the team and must have learnt many new things.

  • John Kurian

    Satan blinded these people from the truth of God. What they have done is they exchanged the truth of God for a lie just as Eve was deceived by the Serpent`s cunning who also led these people astray from the living God. The Devil prowled around them like a roaring lion and devoured them, so they are living like bond servants
    to him by begging food for their existence.