“While my underwater photography often involves commercial, fashion and bridal shoots, my conceptual work speaks of a subconscious denial of reality. I have always been attracted to surreal imagery. I believe that photography as a medium lends a kind of realism to these ‘fantasies’, allowing it to exist in closer relationship to the viewer. I like that it suggests the possibility of an indiscernible truth. Shooting underwater seemed like the logical next step in finding a balance between the surreal world and my own reality…”
We spoke to underwater photographer Ilse Moore about her enchanting art form.
What draws you to the underwater world?
There is something magical that happens underwater, not only due to the weightlessness and freedom, but the feeling of being in a surreal world where I have my own creative playground. It is very challenging, but I find it extremely exciting at the same time due to the unpredictability. Water also contains so many inherent qualities that make it such a rich environment to shoot in conceptually.
What is the best setting for camera when shooting underwater?
It depends on what you are looking for. I shoot fully manual which allows me to make subtle changes during the shoot. It will take a short course to explain all the settings that ensures the best exposure, but knowing your camera is key. A safe aperture setting for example, will be around f8 for sharpness, although I often shoot wider than this depending on my needs. I also shoot with a 16mm fisheye lens to allow me to get closer to my model and thereby not lose visibility by having to shoot from far away
Above or below, which are the hardest to shoot and why?
As far as planning, it is definitely much harder shooting underwater than above. Not only is it harder to move around, but also everything else moves when the model does! Visibility and communication is probably the hardest to compensate for. It’s a whole different ball game, you have to be ready for a certain shot without knowing when it’s going to come and due to the unpredictability of the water, you cannot necessarily create exactly what you had in mind.
Are there other artists that you admire or feel that you relate to?
I try my best to shoot what I feel most comfortable with and what I believe is unique to me. When I first started, I looked at as much as I could to get an idea of what is out there, but one can so easily be distracted and lose faith in one’s own ability when there is constant comparisons made between ones own work and others’. So, while I admire many photographers in different fields (underwater, art and fashion alike), I try to take their advice by simply discovering my own voice.
How do you usually communicate with your models since you really can’t talk underwater?
We discuss everything before the time. If we did shoots in deeper water and the model needed an air regulator, then this would change. In between shots when we come up for air, I usually guide her through the different poses. It is very important for the model to understand what I want because there is simply no communication underwater. She has to control her hair and outfit and constantly be aware of her facial expression, hands and feet …all at the same time. It’s not easy. For my personal shoots, I prefer to use the same models because they are confidant in their abilities and they understand my method.
Why underwater photography?
When I was busy with my Visual Arts degree, I worked a lot with the concept of flight, which more and more made me consider going underwater with my shoots. Water is symbolic of so many things including life, transformation and change. With that being very much in line with the concepts I was working on, I decided to start experimenting underwater. I immediately fell in love with it and now can’t wait to get underwater between shoots.
What do you want to represent conceptually with underwater photography? And what features or elements make it conceptual?
A lot of my personal work deals with a subconscious awareness of self and often takes on a dark or surreal feel, while I try to balance this with images of simple beauty and mystery. This balance stems from the conflict between the individual’s feelings of peacefulness and pain while being submerged. I use the inherent qualities of water to achieve a conceptual meaning. Each art series I create is also different from he next and deals with a separate issue under the umbrella of the concept of “subconscious awareness of self”.
What procedure or method do you use to get to a concept?
I keep a visual diary/workbook in which I write down, draw and explore different ideas. This book becomes my starting block and the concepts usually evolve from there. Of course I also allow the process to build on itself, meaning I often let the visuals happen and change naturally underwater. Allowing room for change and surprise ultimately forms part of the concept.
In which type of media have your pictures been published?
My work has been featured on various international fashion blogs and magazines, as well as a few well-known South African contemporary art and fashion magazines and a several visual art online magazines or blogs who have featured more of my personal work.
So far I’ve worked with an international designer from Turkey “Feline Blush” as well as a prominent South African designer “Joel Janse van Vuuren” and more recently with lingerie designer RUBY. I was also recently invited as a guest photographer or Africa’s Next Top Model, cycle 1 which was an amazing experience.