Words Edel Cassidy
Photographer and visual artist Christy Lee Rogers produces large-scale images of cascading figures swathed in colourful fabrics. To produce these images she photographs clusters of bodies submerged in illuminated water at night, and creates her effects by using refraction of light. Through a process of careful experimentation, she builds elaborate scenes of coalesced colours and entangled bodies that exalt the human figure.
Mastering the technique of taking good photographs underwater requires a particular set of skills and knowledge. Underwater shots can be stunning, but they are also difficult to pull off since water, 800 times more dense than air, totally changes the way light and colour appear in a photograph.
Underwater photographs, therefore, tend to contain a lot less colour and contrast than those taken in air unless adjustments are made. This is not because the colour of submerged objects fade or change, but because of the diffusion, diffraction and absorption of light in water.
Christy has been playing with water and refracted light in her photographs for years; it’s a style she has refined and mastered. Being from Hawaii, she has a natural affinity with water, and feels that there is something magical about being in it, like stepping out of reality where everything starts to blur and blend. But capturing images in this environment is another matter. It took ten years of pushing boundaries, and bending and breaking the rules of photography to achieve her desired results.
She shoots while out of the water but with her subjects underwater. She has found that this achieves a special effect because light travels more slowly in water than it does in air and it produces a wonderful bending and refraction of light in the two different mediums. She realised she could get a painterly quality with her camera if she set it exactly right, put the light exactly where it needed to be and if the models moved in a particular way. Even if the lighting is fractionally off, the image won’t work; when the light is set correctly, the colours really pop. Generally she just works by instinct. She knows what will work, even though her camera often tells her the light is not correct.
Her work has been compared to that of paintings by masters such as Caravaggio. The colours and cascading bodies certainly take on late Renaissance and Baroque tones with a grandeur and sensuous richness that imparts the images with deep emotions. The dramatic use of colour and the powerful contrast between light and shadow make the images exciting, lively, mysterious and sometimes melancholic. These elements appeal to the senses and have the power to evoke an emotional response, almost drawing the viewer in to participate in the scene.
The works shown here are part of Christy’s most recent series, Muses, which was created in response to a year when she lost two very close childhood friends and there was a lot of sadness in her life. The collection has received enormous international recognition for its unique style and captivating imagery, and has been exhibited in the USA, Mexico and China, amongst other places.
Christy wanted to remove herself from the pressures of everyday life and get back to a place where she could wake up in the morning and just be inspired. That’s why she called the collection Muses. It is dedicated to the people she lost. The world she has created in these images is a place where she wants them to be – a place where everything is peaceful and calm. She describes it as ‘a beautiful place where you can let go and be inspired’, a concept that is almost beyond words. She wants viewers to respond in a natural way, to just feel the emotion rather than communicate their reaction in words.
When shooting the collection, she used the indoor pool of a friend who was also a model in some of the images. She likes to keep her shoots simple with small crews so that she can take her time. It also means that the models are comfortable and no one feels stressed.
Christy does not use software to digitally manipulate her underwater images; she makes sure to shoot the images correctly so that she doesn’t have to do anything to them afterwards. For her Hybrids collection, she experimented with mixed media by taking photographs of her paintings and layering them in to the photographs. Also, in some of her long epic shots she has used digital manipulation to literally put two images together with a seam in the middle. However, she is open to the possibility of learning more about, and using, photo-editing techniques in the future. It all depends on what is right for a particular image.
Christy’s art has been featured on several album covers, and her images were selected for the 2013–2014 performance season of the Angers-Nantes Opéra in France. She mainly shoots in Hawaii, but currently lives in Nashville where, in addition to her art and photography, she spends her time as a mother, filmmaker and musician.