There’s something magical about water. Every time I got to a beach or a lake, I can’t help but marvel at the majesty of massive waves or serene ripples. Water is, after all, the source of all life so it’s only natural to have reverence for it. Photographer Christy Lee Rogers, for instance, transforms her fascination of water into artwork. Her work is breathtaking—literally. She merges human and aquatic forms by photographing her subjects as they move underwater. Through her works, she has revamped traditional photography and developed a signature flair.
As a native Hawaiian, Rogers has always had an affinity for water. She grew up in Kailua, a beach town on the island of Oahu, and was enamored of the Pacific Ocean. When she was a teenager, Rogers took up photography as a hobby. Her high school boyfriend, a photographer, gave her an old film camera as a gift. She then started snapping pictures of her friends as well as assembled objects. Rogers also posed for hundreds of photos and took self-portraits. Eventually, she decided to incorporate her love of water into her photography.
“The beauty and tranquility of water led to my first experimentations with it as an artistic source,” Rogers told Astrum People, an online success story magazine. “Metaphorically, water stood for purity; and a body immersed in it, free from of gravity but trapped by the inability to breathe, was a huge dichotomy that consumed me. Pain and suffering all mixed up with freedom and purity.” For Rogers, water is an inspirational element. Her photographs reflect the nature of the universal solvent; sometimes it can be tranquil and at other times, tempestuous.
While Rogers has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Telecommunications and Film, she has no formal training in photography. All of her experience comes from exploration and independent research. Her artistic approach stems from the refraction of light. Light shifts from a lower optical density in air to a higher optical density in water. The movement from air to water causes light to bend and this creates a blurred effect. To capture her photographs, Rogers uses a Canon 5D Mark II or a 1DS Mark III camera. She usually conducts nighttime sessions at local pools in Hawaii and remains poolside to snap shots. Since her subjects are immersed in water, she only has brief intervals to operate. For example, when she photographed “Black Moon,” a piece from her Reckless Unbound collection, her subjects stayed underwater for approximately 15 to 20 seconds at a time for an 8-hour session.
Remarkably, she does not digitally alter or manipulate her images. The confluence of light refraction and movement in varying water depths give them a distinct look. Her photographs more closely resemble paintings than photographs and have been often compared to Baroque art. In an interview with Frame Publishers, a company specializing in publications for creative professionals, Rogers detailed her process. “Water can become quite chaotic, especially with choreographing many subjects together, so we [practice] one by one. I teach each person my style and how to position themselves in relation to me and in relation to the lights. There are key points that they have to [practice] and hopefully master. Posing is not something that I feel works for real expression so I have my subjects stay in constant movement.”
Rogers has produced several photographic series. Her most notable collections are Celestial Bodies, Élan, Smoke and Gold, Reckless Unbound, Odyssey and Siren. Many of her works have also been included in publications such as Harper’s Bazaar Art China, Eyemazing, The Independent, Casa Vogue and Photo Professional. In addition, five of her photographs were featured as cover art for The All-Baroque Box, a 50 CD-box set distributed by Universal Music Group, and Deutsche Grammophon, the world’s oldest surviving record label.
Élan, a 2014 collection, has a festive, carnivalesque motif. The models in this collection wore flamboyant costumes while moving through the water. One piece that caught my attention, titled “Fantôme Du Coeur” (Phantom of the Heart), depicts a man smiling with outstretched arms as he breaks free from entangled bodies. The ripples of the water, the lighting, and the subjects’ attire create an image reminiscent of an anachronistic French painting. Visually, it’s the incarnation of a sunken soiree.
Her 2015 collection, Celestial Bodies, came to fruition because of a technical error. Rogers emailed a photo to a friend and discovered that the original image was duplicated in reverse. She was inspired by this mistake and integrated it into the project. “Celestial Bodies” is an apt description for the series because the subjects look as if they’re drifting weightlessly in the void of outer space. At the same time, Rogers captures each person’s fluidity by conveying them as astral projections.
The piece titled, “Reflected in the Stars” is stunning. The sparse lighting and surrounding bubbles project a cosmic atmosphere. It’s symbolic of a graceful, interstellar ballet. The woman is essentially drowning peacefully as the water envelops her entire being. Rogers creates a mirrored effect by juxtaposing the original image with its inverted counterpart. This is a masterfully crafted image that showcases Rogers’ ingenuity.
I was very impressed with Christy Lee Rogers’ collections. She has an intuitive perspective and her technique is innovative. Underwater photography is a nuanced art form with an imaginative style. An aquatic ambience permeates her photographs which makes her work so exceptional. Her methodology is unorthodox, yet it can be appreciated by photography enthusiasts and art lovers alike.