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.