While photographing the pool world championships in Finland, i noticed a funny little pool next to the 50 meter main pool. It was tiny, barely bigger than a bathtub, just a set of stairs leading into a black tiled square. I figured it was a hot tub of some sorts, but when i put my finger in to test how warm the water was, i got stung -it was freezing! Well, not really freezing, obviously, as it was still liquid, but it was very very cold. A sign next to the pool said it was 4 degrees Celsius, which is 39 degrees Fahrenheit, aka f***ing freezing.
Of course i had to try it, so i put in a foot and instantly regretted it. It hurt! But i have a friend in Finland who swim under ice -in her bathing suit- and i was wearing a wetsuit, plus this water was warmer, so i had to go on. I walked in, dipped my head under, froze my sinuses solid and tried to get out in a dignified but hurried fashion. No such luck, by that time my feet had started to cramp and i could barely walk.
After i got out i stood there for a while, trying not to cry and wondering why people would do such a thing, when the most wonderful tingle came over my feet as they started to feel again. Soon the rest of my body followed, feeling all alive and giddy. It was then that i realized this pool was a wonderful opportunity to do a series of portraits of people submerged in 4 degree water. I immediately got back in there to make sure that it really was that shockingly cold, as shock was the expression i wanted to capture, and yes, yes it was, so i hurried out again, limping on feet clinched.
In order to maximize the shock, i asked my fellow freedivers to jump in from the side of the pool, also adding bubbles to the action. It is not often that i have a fairly defined idea of what i’d like to achieve, but with this series, the results were pretty much it:
That’s Marianna, perfectly displaying what we feel down there
and Julian, with a perfect expression and a crown of bubbles
or Oksana, whose lovely smile almost froze over
Laurent nearly froze his tattoos off
but Justine managed an OK sign -quite a few did, actually
in fact, some people were downright and ice-cold rock’n’roll
that last one is Johanna, my friend who swims under ice. She posed several times for me, and never did i get the shock i was hoping for. She was one of the ones who was actually quite serene
just like these
Johanna even blew a bubble ring, so we had to try that as well -with varying degrees of success
That last one is me. As you’ll notice, i was cheating, wearing a wetsuit plus vest. Because i am a massive pussy, that’s why. But on the last day i did man up, a little, if only because this one wouldn’t do it unless i did, which i thought was only fair and extremely unfair at the same time. I have yet to forgive her:
In the end, the best bubbles were a tie between Chris and Dasha
Best pose definitely goes to Dasha, though
Today would have been Nick’s 34th birthday. 34. So many decades of great potential and kindness died with him. To honor that kindness, his sisters have started a thing called #WWND, which stands for What Would Nick Do, and it encourages people to do random acts of kindness for strangers, much in the spirit of Nick. This year it’s #WWND2015 , and one of the things i’d like to do is to make an image i have of him available. It’s of his Free Immersion dive during the 2013 world championships in Kalamata. I found it in my archives this month as i wassearching for photos of Natalia Molchanova -you can see her watching Nick on the decompression line.
For a high resolution version of this image, click the link below.
Right, so the Russians won, as expected. I mean, they were wearing golden suits, so it was a foregone conclusion:
and the Japanese were wearing silver suits, so guess where they ended?
So let’s get to the less obvious categories, like best T-shirt. I thought it was a shoe-in for this dude:
but then June-bug’s shirt is one i’ve loved for years:
now best turn was an interesting one, for there was this rather splendid example by a Russian guy
but then Tomoka had this oddly beautiful style, kinda poetry-in-motion, or Haiku-in-motion, in her case
Best shorts were undoubtedly the Russian’s, who took ‘shorts’ quite literally -almost too literally
the reactions to which were mostly summarised by this
Best pyjamas were worn by Jesper
best swim cap was by Goran
or maybe that was just ‘most unexpectedly pink’ swim cap. Goran -who knew?
Onwards to most inexplicable position during static, which was definitely Tomoka:
Ok, i know i take a lot of pictures of the Japanese girls, but can you blame me? They are spectacular; fantastic athletes, and when you ask them to play, they do this:
And really, the freediving men just give me a complex. They’re all shaped like action figures
some even have the action figure suit:
amongst these depressingly well-build action figures, my new favourite is Stig Pryds
He’s so cool i suggest we change the surface protocol from “I am ok” to “I am Stig Pryds”. He also has ‘best tattoos’.
Most chill pre-dive judging position? Ute. You can tell it’s near the end of the day:
As a photographer, i’ve also added the category ‘best positioning’, as most freedivers tend to completely ignore my silent pleas to face the sun. Ashleigh was a very pleasant exception to this rule:
Of course, at an Italian competition, you have to pay tribute to Umberto. Best one either goes to Radek
or this lady
But in the end, the best picture for me was the one that brought the biggest smile to my face
ok, 1 more of a Japanese girl
Last week, i had the pleasure and honour to document Danes diving deep at their annual depth championships, this time held in Kalamata, Greece. The winner of the women was Dena Parsa, who also set a national record Free Immersion with 61 meters:
and the winner of the men was my friend Jesper Stechmann, who broke the record for Constant weight no fins:
The comp had a great ambiance and it was good to see old friends and meet new ones. When i started freediving the Danes were the best ones out there, especially in the pool, and it was nice to see some of the old still being on top/bottom and teaching the new. And i was glad they didn’t pick Sweden this year, for the visibility most days was set to epic:
For what would have been his 33rd birthday, Nick’s sisters have asked to commemorate him by remembering his kindness and performing a random act of kindness today. I’ll try and do more, but here’s mine for now: the picture here is available for high res download in the link below it. Please feel free to print it as big as you like, and give it to yourself or anyone you know who loved Nick and his kind heart.
When you look at the seasons from a photography perspective (and you apply some pretty broad strokes), to me spring, with its awakening greens and flowers, is about vibrancy, summer, in all its heat, is about saturation, fall, with it’s long light, is about colour temperature, and winter, all stark and white, is about contrast. But this summer i had spring and winter in two consecutive weekends.
Now it’s winter in Australia but i didn’t have to travel quite so far; i drove to Belgium to dive Nemo 33, the world’s second deepest pool. I didn’t just shoot the Magritte-inspired thing there, i also played around a bit, and going over the material, i couldn’t make it work. I had trouble finding the tone, not just musically, but weird things happen to colours when you’re in a deep pool under artificial light. I knew i had some cool shots but i just didn’t know how to process them.
So i put it on the back burner and drove to Cornwall the next weekend. It had just been hit by a storm so the waters were still murky, but i really enjoyed the diving there, especially a place called ‘the crack of life’. Not only is that a very funny name, it is a really cool dive, right in between two big rocks which are overgrown by seaweeds. So there we were, surrounded by green murk and weeds, and of course Tom Waits’ “all the world is green” pops into my head. Sometimes it’s so easy, isn’t it? So that video kinda shot itself:
It was all spring, which got me thinking what season the Nemo video would be. I’d never done a black and white video before, but since i was having such trouble colour correcting the Nemo footage, i figured i’d check what it would look like in monochrome. And once i saw the results, a song formed with it, and the edit suddenly got a lot more manageable:
It is the warmest winter i’ve ever experienced, though, where you can be out in your speedos. But there’s something really delicious about experiencing free fall without a suit on: you can feel it all over your skin.
One of the things i love about photographing underwater is how fluid you have to be -everything moves, in all directions, light changes with each wave and unless you anchor yourself, you are going to be floating about as well. So not only is your subject constantly changing position, so is the light and so are you; it’s the opposite of studio photography. So i tend to go into shoots with only a general idea -somebody diving through a bubble ring, dancing in red dress- and then play around with it once we’re under.
But every once in a while i get a specific idea, an image i want to create. That tends to make me nervous, because i know water and know better than to impose my will on it. And in general, especially with specific ideas, reality wins and usually turns out to be way more complex and better for it. That is one of the reasons i enjoy photographing freediving competitions so much: it happens, i’m a witness and all i can do is roughly pick the perspective i think suits the action. When i work on land i also prefer documenting rather than arranging. Letting it happen rather than making it happen.
That’s all fine, but ideas have a mind of their own and will bug you to exist. Normally i can’t trace my ideas; like dreams, they surprise me and show me that it might be my head, but i have little clue of what’s going on inside there. But this one, i can not only remember popping up in that random head of mine, but also i can trace it to its origins: it’s Magritte.
Renée Magritte, Belgian surrealist, has made me smile and left me in wonder for as long as i can remember. I love his work, from the man with the apple head to the pipe to raining business men. His conceptual works have that delicious combination of being both intelligent and pretty, but i also have a soft spot for his more straight forward work. The empire of light does something profound to me every time i see it, like recognising a stranger.
So when the businessman popped into my head, underwater of course, i saw where he came from. And i knew what i’d have to do. And i thought it’d be impossible.
I thought i was going to have to do something like this in the sea, with lots of changes in circumstances, in a real suit, freezing my ass off and drowning, etc. So no, not this picture, not this idea. But the umbrella underwater idea was too funny, and i was kinda thinking of doing the apple man as well (will still do that, next time i’m in the Blue Hole). But too difficult, i thought, to actually pull it off.
I hadn’t counted on serendipity. A few years back i was looking into superman costumes for a video idea i had and i came across something called ‘second skin costumes': lycra outfits in one piece that looked like the superman costume. But they also had them in other colours and themes, including tuxedos, and yes, business suit. It was weird, and a bit kinky, but i made a mental note -the business suit problem had a possible solution. I’d be able to swim and move in that. Then my friend Eric van Riet Paap of be-water provided the other missing link: he’d secured two days of diving in Nemo 33, the world’s second deepest pool. I’d have 6 hours of a controlled, deep environment. And and and: Nemo 33 is located in Brussels, where Magritte lived and where his museum is.
Too good. So as much trepidation as i feel with specific idea for UW shoots, i started preparing for this one. I bought the suit, a bowler hat, an sturdy umbrella, and in the process of searching i also found a suit that had Magritte written all over it: a cloud suit.
It all came together: the anonymous female figure, the clouds, the hat, the umbrella, Brussels, the surreal. I played with the themes, gave them my own spin, and apart from the raining businessmen thing, didn’t try to copy Magritte too literally -ceci nest pas un Magritte. At the end, my friend Eric had time to don the suit and we created what turned out to be my favourite image of the session: cloud lady sheltering under business man’s umbrella. I rarely name my pictures but i’d like to call this one The possibilities of a rainy day.
Of course the umbrella broke instantly, the apple was too much trouble to work with (next time) and reality got in the way most wonderfully, but i’m very glad with the results and am planning to do more planned stuff, more inspirations. Maybe with even sturdier umbrellas.
In Crete last month, the UK static record holder Georgina Miller broke her own record of 6 minutes 20 by 7 seconds. I got to stand by her side and say stuff like “come on”, which she said helped:
And if that wasn’t enough, she also won silver in the depth competition with these three beautiful dives, which i got to film:
Plus she did a perfect tag grab on her no fins dive, which was one of my favourite pictures of the comp
The water’s so clear here in Crete that there’s barely a point for me as a photographer to go deep -you can get overview shots at 10 meters, like this one of Monika, who did a national record Free Immersion for Poland
Beautiful dives again today -and a turtle! Only caught that one on video -poor battery on the main camera died of sheer exhaustion.