The Surreal & Painterly-Like Underwater Photography of Christy Lee Rogers
Underwater photography has been something I’ve always been interested in, but far too nervous to actually try bringing my camera or lighting into the pool. I’ve been inspired and left in awe of the images I’ve seen created by those who “brave” the depths and always wondered how it was all really done, especially when the work is so surreal and ethereal.
This is where artist and underwater fine-art photographer, Christy Lee Rogers differs & stands out from the crowd. If you’re not familiar with her work, get ready for a ride! Why? Because not only is her underwater work absolutely breathtaking, but a lot of it isn’t even captured with her underwater alongside her subjects. In fact, Christy often creates her masterpieces from above!
“I think what I do differently than most underwater photographers is that I am shooting from above the water and I’m using (the) refraction of lights, so you get this sort of bending (effect).”
Recently CNN has compared Christy Lee Rogers‘ contemporary photography to paintings by 19th Century painters like Caravaggio and more. Her work has an almost dream-like feel to it with colors that just draw you in and personally I have to agree.
Christy beat 274,000 entries to win the Sony World Open Photographer of the Year and since then Apple commissioned her to make 12 photographs and a film which they released on New Year’s Eve and Lavazza (who previously commissioned photographers like Annie Liebovitz and David LaChapelle) commissioned her for the cover of their calendar.
I had the chance recently to speak with Christy and ask her for some insight into her current (and past) projects, what inspires her, and what she strives to create, so let’s dive into that conversation and let you enjoy some more samples of her work below.
What Gave You The Idea and Inspiration to Start This Project?
This collection “Human” began as a project about gravity and flight and transformed along the way into something more universal, more human. It was shot before Covid and finished in the days of lockdown. That time had a profound effect on me, as it did with most, and needed to be expressed. So I took that opportunity to dive into the depths of what I felt it was to be human. Vulnerable and yet hopeful. Somehow I have not been able to deviate from that concept; it has stuck with me.
What Can You Tell Us About the Process? (BTS?)
The process is very raw and organic. In some ways, it’s freeing and in other ways it’s painful. Putting together an image that should not exist in reality has both sides. Planning starts with notebooks of inspiration and concepts, notes about life and existence. From there I will choose a main theme that really resonates with what I need to express and want to experiment with. Models, pools, costumes, and fabrics are then gathered to fit with that concept, then I write out the shot lists. On the day of the shoots, everything is more organic and we all let go and go with what comes. We experiment.
Which Image Are You Most Proud Of and Why?
They’re all my babies and each one has its place in my heart. In many ways, it is more of the collection coalescing into these feelings that make me feel like I’ve said what I wanted to say. And when the image can help someone or when somebody writes to me saying they were in tears of emotion viewing the work; that’s when I feel a sense of peace.
On Average, How Long Does Each Photo Take To Finish? (From Concept to Execution to Retouching)
A collection of about 25 images will usually take me from start to finish about a year to complete. I think I do spend a lot of time on them, making sure that each one is perfect in the emotion they convey, in its title, colors, and cropping. It seems that each year I become more of a perfectionist and the process becomes more intense.
Where Did You Learn Your Shooting and Retouching Techniques?
I did study filmmaking in college and took a photography class in high school, but most of my photography skills were self-taught along the way. Trial and error were the best learning experiences. Experimentation is the backbone of what I’m doing with water and light, so making mistakes has been about half of what I do. And I wouldn’t change a thing. Not knowing the rules allowed me to see things I would have never seen.
On Christy’s New Project – Human
Like most during this period, Rogers has spent much time close to home. Fueled by the events around the world she’s taken this opportunity to dive into her latest underwater collection, Human.
Drama, movement, and light come to life in swirls of color, set against the darkness of night in Rogers’ depiction of the strength and opposing vulnerability of humanity. With many public exhibitions closed indefinitely, she decided to release this collection online, one image a month, with complimentary outdoor installations around the world. The first being in London on the streets of the design district, with 20-foot outdoor images posted along the walkways.
The name human was selected to presuppose a coming together of humanity into a modern renaissance, kindled by adversity and tribulation, and flowering into unforeseen new realities. If art was a passageway into the soul and something more profound within ourselves, she reminds us of our own vulnerabilities within a landscape of hope and magic. In Rogers’ unique way, she urges us to look beyond the finite boundaries of what’s in front of us and to see between the spaces into a new future.
All of her works are photographed in water, using the refraction of light to create painterly images, and often compared with Baroque and Renaissance paintings. The water within the images flows life to all areas, taking on bold curving forms and transforming everyday people into angelic creatures, seemly from some other place. In these works, Rogers hypothesizes the idea that if photons of light are without mass and only perceived because of the eyes, then there must be other things around us that we can not perceive as of yet.
Christy also says: “My purpose behind the work is to question and find understanding in the craziness, tragedy, vulnerability, beauty and power of mankind.” She’s in the middle of releasing her new series, Human, which you can see here: www.christyleerogers.com/human
[Related Reading: Removing Water from Underwater Images is Now Possible with Sea-Thru!]