HOW TO ENCAPSULATE LUMINOUSLY A LIFE UNDERWATER
Christy Lee Rogers
Throughout the years, across the pages of art history on museum walls and gallery exhibits, we’ve come to understand and love the way water, as a vital element of life takes on a beauteous role in narrating those lives that lived before. From paintings and tales, we find these narrations flow seamlessly around rivers and lakes, oceans in journeys in the same way water remembers these lives – what lived before and what is now. International artist, Christy Lee Rogers depicts life through the art of utilizing water differently in a unique medium of expression and we find her technique exemplary in its ability to portray stories beautifully and ethereally, through light and extraordinary costume coordination.
Christy Lee Rogers is a visual artist from Kailua, Hawaii. Christy’s works have been exhibited globally from Paris, London, Italy, Mexico City to Shanghai, Sao Paulo, South Africa, Los Angeles and more, and are held in private and public collections throughout the world. She has been featured in International Magazines, including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar Art China, Elle Decoration, Global Times, The Independent, Casa Vogue, Photo Technique, Photo Korea and others. Rogers’ "Reckless Unbound" is currently housed at Longleat House in the UK; the stately home, which is the seat of the Marquesses of Bath and also home to Renaissance gems of the Italian masters, like Titan’s "Rest on the Flight into Egypt." She is a two time finalist for the Contemporary Talents Award from the Fondation François Schneider in France, and has been commissioned by Apple to create underwater images with the iPhone 11Pro, as well as being featured in one of their behind-the-scenes process films. Rogers' art has been featured on several album covers, including “Orchesography” for the 80’s band Wang Chung, and her images were selected for the 2013–2014 performance season of the Angers-Nantes Opera in France. In 2019 she won Open Photographer of the Year at the Sony World Photography Awards. In conversation with Christy, we understand her modus operandi, meaning and inspiration behind it all.
Q |What was the driving force behind your series Muses and what is the significance of the title in relation to the work?
A |Muses was about inspiration itself. The insight we need the most. In Greek mythology the Muses were goddesses of poetic inspiration, on whose mercy the creativity, wisdom and insight of all artists and thinkers depended. Along with this inspiration, Muses was about the beauty and vulnerability of being human. And despite everything that we go through, we’re still beautiful. My search for freedom within myself and others drives me to create these images. And I want to provoke a freedom beyond what we currently know as freedom, to create a sense of wonder, tranquillity and hope that lifts us up. To show with a photograph that there are still mysterious, impossibly beautiful things on Earth—not only in our imaginations. And that it only takes looking at things differently to really see them.
Q |Could you elaborate on how you create these ephemeral, undulating images and the photographic process behind their conception? How are you able to transform your photographs into works that are emblematic of Baroque oil paintings?
A |Everything is magical under water and so I have used this as my main artistic source and tool. It’s like a whole new undiscovered world. Water is so beautiful and tranquil, which led to my first experimentations with it over 15 years ago. As I was testing everything I could possibly put in the water, it became apparent that it was a powerful tool to express the essence of mankind, both vulnerable and powerful. And it is the necessary element to creating a free and painting like world for these images to live in. By breaking many of the photographic rules I’m able to capture something beyond what I see through my lens, by using refraction of light through different surfaces. They start with concepts that I develop over the year while keeping notebooks of ideas and inspirations. And end with shoots organized in swimming pools, mostly in Hawaii. From here everything is live and experimental, requiring that I be very present to sculpt the fabrics, bodies and light.
Q |How did you come to start working with natural elements like water and what challenges come with using such a medium to create your photographs?
A |Growing up in Hawaii was what first inspired my love of water. I learned from my father a deep respect for the water and ocean, and was always in it, from surfing, boogie boarding, water skiing, knee boarding, kayaking, swimming, boating and swinging into pools beneath beautiful water falls. So this was a natural love for me.
The challenges of shooting in water are many, but these challenges constantly push me to grow and see things differently. Each new shoot is the most exhausting things I’ve ever done, and it seems like my life falls apart while this process is going on. It’s also exciting because it feels like we’re breaking the rules of the physical universe, and it takes a lot of patience, which I’m not known for, so this is good for me. There can be softness in the image when there are too many bodies moving together underwater. I start to lose clarity, and there is a fine line between the clarity and painterly brush strokes created by the refraction of light under water. Water is uncontrollable in many ways, so taming it for the shoot can be very difficult.
Because most everything in my environment is based on experimentation I have to trust myself and those gut feelings, especially with dealing with my subjects as we cannot talk much during the shoot. At first that was more of a challenge but the more I do it the more comfortable I become in the chaos. It becomes a beautiful chaos.
Q |What roles do colour and light play when creating your luminous underwater compositions? How do they affect the overall image?
A |Colour and light are everything! This is the magic that comes through underwater. Each colour in the water is like a delicate dance, set against the dramatic lighting that drifts in and out. And each pulsating movement changes the dance of light and colour against the water.
Q |Considering the art historical comparisons you have garnered throughout your career, such as Caravaggio and Gentileschi, how important are the works of seventeenth-century artists to your practice?
A |I did always find myself in these parts of each museum I visited, but there was never an intention to re-create baroque paintings. This is something I didn’t think about until someone had asked me and the comparisons started to be made. What I see as similar is that I am obsessed with movement, drama, individual figures, light and shadow, and the sense of something greater than oneself, a freedom beyond words. There are ideas, feelings and things I imagine, and this is what takes me on my path, more of something that was in me and happened as a result of life, living and my experimentations in water. But looking back I can say that my love for creating images that were beyond reality, and questioned reality as it is today, plays a big part in choosing this style of creation.
Q |You have mentioned previously that the series was made as a reaction to a series of personal losses you faced. How does this body of work aim to respond to this period in your life?
A |This made me look at life in a new way and how precious and important every moment is. Everything you have in you now is important to express.The body perishes eventually but do we? That’s what I’m bending and sculpting underwater to express emotions, love, loss, hope, fears, freedoms, barriers and the whole bundle of peace and turbulence that makes us who we are. And it’s very hard to explain in words what happened to me during this time. I cried like I never cried before and then I created the final Muses collection out of some kind of intense power within me.
Q |What can you tell us about your current artistic explorations and projects? Have you moved on from your thematic concerns in Muses?
A | At the moment I am in the middle of a big art film project that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. It’s a project beyond anything that I have done before, involving many shoots over time in and out of Hawaii, bigger crews and bigger equipment. I’m also working on many new projects that I can’t talk about yet, but that are so creative in new ways for me.
Christy Roger’s obsession with water as a medium for breaking the conventions of contemporary photography has led to her work being compared to Baroque painting masters like Caravaggio. Boisterous in colour and complexity, Rogers applies her cunning technique to a barrage of bodies submerged in water during the night, and creates her effects using the refraction of light. Through a fragile process of experimentation, she builds elaborate scenes of coalesced colours and entangled bodies that exalt the human character as one of vigour and warmth, while also capturing the beauty and vulnerability of the tragic experience that is the human condition. We find, in discussion with Christy how movement, space and medium have contributed to her to work to bring an incandescent comprehension of what she sees and experiences; her perspectives luminously outlined and presented beyond the depths of substance and element but also within it. Christy’s collection ‘Muses’ is an intimate production that allows the viewer to feel both overwhelmed with feeling and liberation.