My fascination with how we see, move and feel underwater plays right back to early childhood. I remember, I would swim to the bottom of a pool and just gaze upwards, wondering, “What would it be like to turn all this upside down?” I actually wanted to be a trapeze artist but then discovered that hanging around in deep water, playing at being an ‘aquanaut’ had similarities, just with a slower pace in a more interesting world.
Now water is my medium, an unpredictable, bewitching environment where I can throw out the rulebook of the atmosphere we usually inhabit and just observe. Who’d have thought that deep underwater, a simple flower can effervesce and “breathe”. Or how long, fine hair can look like smoke. Or even, at depth, how blood appears to be the colour of green algae.
Sink below the surface and we detect sound through bone conduction, not our ear canals, altering hearing in remarkable ways. We can register very high frequencies like whale song and ‘feel’ thunderously loud boat traffic vibrations that resonate through the body.
Underwater, we are essentially mute, substituting language for expression and movement. On a casting I might see 40 models. Some will ‘shrink’ into themselves, making small shapes, becoming introverted versions of what they are on land. Others take it in their stride, the water having less effect. Sometimes it’s the most outwardly confident people who feel panicky and head for the surface sooner than they really need to.
“Water acts like a leveller, stripping us back to the bare essentials. Underwater, there’s no reflection on the eyes as the water mixes with the liquid surface, like it’s washing away the mask we wear on land. But what really intrigues me is something deeper. For some reason, many people express themselves in an incredibly natural, intuitive way, becoming perfect subjects for telling stories through body language. It might be a heightened sense of self that comes from near-weightless suspension. Or perhaps it’s the restricted visibility and the dreamlike environment that makes us less inhibited. Maybe it’s just something that connects with our very, very distant past. The chances are, it all plays a part and the effect is made even more magical by the visually transformative effects of water.”
“Zena is more than capable of weaving her magic in almost any location where water is present… she is able to create different scenes that cause us to question everything we know about the water”