Interviews with my underwater models
I thought of some questions that might ease any nervous models about to embark on their first underwater photoshoot. Some of my models were happy to answer in great depth.
1. What was the hardest thing about modelling underwater?
Cathy: The hardest thing for me was having to forget everything I normally do for a shoot and just relax. You have to trust the water and let it guide your movement and flow – as soon as you fight against it you lose relaxation and it will show in your face.
Paul: I think the hardest thing for me was sinking properly, it seemed that costume choice was a big factor in that.
Hollie: The hardest thing about modelling underwater is getting over the initial battle with your mind and body about being underwater with no breath. Once you have calmed your mind, it's fine but that survival instinct sure kicks in hard! It's a fascinating, organic, primal instinct but a little inconvenient in these situations!
2. Was it what you expected?
Cathy: I expected moving underwater to be easier, however it was hard – especially with clothing and pointe shoes dragging me down. Everything is heavier in water and there are a lot of things to think about including breathing, or not breathing!
Paul: I’m not sure what I expected, however it really was a special and beautiful experience. Something to treasure.
Hollie: In some ways it was what I expected - a bit tricky but utterly worthwhile, but in some ways it wasn't - I didn't realise quite how exciting, how freeing, how incredible it would be and how it gave me newfound respect for our bodies and how they work. It was also far more fun than I could've imagined! Loved every single second.
3. Did the breathing bother you or make you anxious?
Cathy: Breathing out before you go under the surface is the complete opposite to what we normally do before going underwater so I was anxious at first. I still didn’t have enough time in two hours to feel completely comfortable but it got easier, although I couldn’t stay under the water for too long without my body going into some form of ‘wow you’re underwater let’s stop this’.
Paul: I didn’t feel anxious about the breathing, felt perfectly safe throughout. Your mind quite quickly switches to it. I was relieved about it as I’m someone who does have anxiety issues.
Hollie: The breathing is something you overcome gradually. Certainly in your first few attempts you won't be the best but it comes once your body realises it's not in danger. I found that once I had convinced my mind of this I could stay down for way longer than I first thought, with little to no breath. Saying that, once or twice whilst calmly underwater your mind will be saying "this is nice, this is fine... AND NOW I MUST HAVE AIR RIGHT NOW!" And I'd suddenly shoot upwards, almost involuntarily.
4. Did you feel safe?
Cathy: I did feel safe with Rekha and on the shoot. Make sure you know where the sides of the pool are and how close you are to a shallow end you can stand in. You can get disoriented pretty quick in the pool so make sure you’re comfortable and know what you can grab onto if necessary.
Paul: Due to Rekhas attitude and approach, I felt perfectly safe. Including when I fitted weights to aid the sink.
Hollie: Despite re-teaching your mind what to expect and overriding the primal instincts, I felt utterly safe as I knew I was in good hands with Rekha. Not only is she a strong swimmer with experience as a lifeguard, but She explained everything, advised and ensured me before we began and continued to check if I was alright throughout, especially in regards to the costumes being heavy or cumbersome. Example: at one point, I was wearing a mermaid fin and Rekha was aware of me getting too tired from wearing it, before I even was!
5. Any tips for other future models?
Cathy: On your first underwater shoot just try and relax, have a few practice runs and don’t worry if you can’t stay under for long. Do some research and look at previous underwater photoshoots with Rekha and other photographers. It’s good to have a general idea about what you want to do but keep an open mind as being underwater changes everything.
Paul: For males, costume seemed to be a thing. The costumes I wore filled with air quickly and pulled me up. For poses, relax, let the water take you and keep it slow.
Hollie: Tips wise, I would say although it feels unnatural at first to go underwater with no air, just take a moment to relax and compose yourself, you CAN do it so just stay calm and serene - it will show! Also, I found it's helpful to oxygenate the blood before going under so take a few big deep breathes in and out before finally breathing out (and make sure you get rid of all the air you can or you really won't sink!) Then let yourself go and be guided by the water - don't fight it if you're turning or twisting, let it be. It could be magic.
6. Anything you'd change looking back?
Cathy: I wouldn’t change anything from my shoot aside from perhaps going at a different time so the pool wasn’t so cloudy!
Paul: Have I mentioned costume? Other than that I’d spend more time planning some movement.
Hollie: Ha! I'm an anxious perfectionist so every time I do any shoot, let alone an underwater shoot I think of a lot of things I could've done differently - in this case different poses, different body angles, techniques of sinking, erc - but each time I learn a little more and reintroduce it next time. Leaves me hungry for more! I want to do more upside down shots, for example and change my facial expressions ever so slightly. Next time, I hope!
7. Pro's and con?
Paul: Pros are that it’s a truly unique experience, something to really remember. Cons are it can be tricky to not pull ‘drowning’ face, but that can be countered once relaxed. And you can become very tired.
Hollie: The pros of moving underwater are huge: it's like nothing else. You will never get to pose on the same way, have the same feeling of lightness and freedom, of pure creativity and of a connection to your own body and being. It's incredibly special, and obviously you will have such unique images to treaure forever, like no other you'll get anywhere else. There aren't really any cons except hitting the right conditions (pool cloudiness or clearness, clouds or sunlight, etc) and then just getting over that initial tricky stage and getting used to being clothed in water, which can sometimes be heavy.
8. Was posing difficult?
Paul: Yes it was difficult, but I think you need to remember that you are underwater so therefore you should just allow it to be what it is.
Hollie: Posing was a little tricky at first, partly because of certain outfits and the weight and partly because you are controlled by the water to a degree. You can certainly begin to pose in a way you intend to but you learn pretty quickly that the water dictates everything - where the clothes will go, where your hair will float, how your body rotates or moves. It's actually a beautiful thing and if you embrace it, it can work to your advantage. Just remember these key things: try to stay side on to the camera most of the time, eyes closed is fine and often looks more serene, breathe out before going under rather than whilst going under so the bubbles are mainly gone, keep your feet pointed and your hands light and natural. Be aware of the angles your limbs are making but again, don't worry too much and just go with the flow - literally!
9. How is it different to regular photo shoot?
Paul: We got very wet.....it’s so different to a normal shoot, forget posing and setting self and just let it take you.
Hollie: It's so different to normal for all the above reasons and though you know what you're there for, and that you're posing, you are unaware of the camera in many ways. I think that makes for more ethereal and real photos. On usual shoots as a model, you're so aware of the camera lens, and in this case it feels like it's secondary to the beautiful water, which is the dominant aspect.
10. Would you do it again?
Cathy: I would definitely do it again, if Rekha would have me again!
Paul: Yes yes yes. It’s beautiful. I’d love to try it with shoes on and props.
Hollie: I would absolutely do it again. I find the whole process incredibly cathartic and rewarding. It's a beautiful experience and hard to explain unless you try it! Not to mention I adore all the photos that come out of these special shoots - there is a magic and otherworldliness to them I can't describe, which comes down to the amazing eye, creative insight and boundless talent of Rekha. Thank you to her for the experience of modelling underwater, and for what this has meant to me.