Photographer Christy Lee Rogers grew up in Hawaii and this environment still has an influence on the way she works today. “That’s where I learned a deep respect for the ocean and a kindness for each other,” she tells us. It is in our true nature to be kind and gentle and she wants to remind us of that with her work.
Imagicasa spoke to Christy Lee Rogers about her unique style of photography. She herself calls it 'emotional, sensual, timeless and experimental'. We see a certain magical realism in it and the images remind us of the sumptuousness of the works of Baroque artists such as Rubens and Caravaggio. Rogers also looks up to these two, just like she is inspired by Banksy, the mesmerising designs of Iris van Herpen, musicians like Muse and Bjork, directors Baz Luhrmann, Julie Taymor and Federico Fellini and everything from Cirque du Soleil. All these names represent a certain theatricality, drama and a total surrender to artistic freedom. Rogers’ work ticks the same boxes. Water also plays a very important role in her work and although it seems that this element is not immediately reconcilable with photography, she has nevertheless found a way to include it in her work. Where does your obsession with water come from?
“Water is so rejuvenating and nurturing to me. This obsession with it as an artistic source started after I left Hawaii to live in Los Angeles. It was there that I missed the water so much and the rain that washed all the manmade pollution away. Yet it was always a natural love for me growing up in Hawaii, surrounded by this majestic element. Water is life, it’s alive; it’s life-giving and without it we could not survive. Water is freedom, purity and our lifeblood, and the most cherished element for me on our planet. And shooting with water is like being in the most magical place, where nothing is bound by this reality and everything is possible. So, leaving reality for a little bit is an important step in being able to create a new reality, something kinder and more loving, which I want so badly for us.”
“I am searching for a freedom that cannot even be described in words.”
When did you realise this was the kind of photography you wanted to do, in this style and underwater?
“For years I photographed everything I could find and everyone that would pose for me. But on my first water shoot at night in Los Angeles, I saw something in these images that I had never seen before; a magic that was almost as if I was creating a painting from nothing. That was the first time that I ever fell in love with my final images. There was always something not quite profound enough in my earlier images, and so these went in boxes and got stored away. But from that moment on I really became a photographer, and I needed to experiment with this style every night that I possibly could. It was almost like a science experiment, testing light, fabrics, movement and colours underwater to see what would give me the effect I was looking for.” What effect do you want your work to have on those who see it? What is the purpose of your work?
“I hope that people see a part of themselves in the images, and feel that soft gentleness that is their true nature. And that through these stories underwater, they will see that even in our vulnerability, that we cannot do anything but exude hope and touch freedom. That is the purpose of these works for others and for myself. Through them, I am searching for a freedom that cannot even be described in words. And this is my path.”
What inspires you to start a new series?
“Inspiration is everywhere that it’s almost overwhelming; from the greatest losses in my life, to the forest and creatures surrounding me, to the problems and triumphs of humanity. Elon Musk flying to space, contemplating artificial intelligence and what that really means if we’re spiritual beings anyway; films like Interstellar and Lord of the Rings. I am so fascinated by this idea of the ring and how it brings out the dark side of mankind, the eternal lives of the Elves and how they help to overcome this evil. Music and lyrics are also intensely inspiring to me. Usually I keep notebooks of all of these inspirations throughout the year, most of it scribble, but theses scribblings will inevitably lead me to a central concept that I want to create visually.”
“Water is so rejuvenating and nurturing to me.”
What are the biggest challenges of shooting these photographs underwater?
“The biggest challenge is myself and working through my own anxieties about creating something more magical than what’s humanly possible. As well as working with the difficulties of controlling elements in the water. Everything I do in water is very experimental in nature, and involves precision in directing the models, light, fabrics and movement. It involves patience and trusting my instincts at every moment. It’s not like anything I’ve every photographed before.” What is the process during the photoshoot? Do you give the models instructions of how to move or which poses to make in the water?
“Yes, in many ways I do, but I also love to see what each model will bring naturally and how they will react with the hardships of being underwater. It is this overcoming of that vulnerability beneath the surface that is most important to me. And each model has a different way of experiencing that, which is the most exciting part. Then I work with them to perfect what they feel, and perfect the light, fabrics, colours and movement around them and with each other.”
Why do you only shoot at night?
“The lighting is very crucial for these images and at night I can create the most dramatic effects in the water, capturing a chiaroscuro type of lighting, with high contrast of light and dark. The night time is also my favourite time to create, where I feel most alive and inspired, so it was how I originally came to this process.” As a photographer you undoubtedly have many images that don’t get released. When do you know an image is right?
“For months and even years, I will sit with the images on the walls of my studio, living with them, before I know they are right. If every morning I wake up and love the image, finding something new in it each time, then I know it’s complete. And yes, there are thousands of images that don’t make the cut on each shoot. In each collection there is something very important that I want to say with each image, and although it can be beautiful, if it doesn’t communicate this concept, then it’s not released.”
What was the idea behind the collections we see here,Hybrids and Muses?
“Hybrids was about eternity and the eternal life of the flower. How it blooms anew each spring and how powerful this everlasting beautiful life form has been for us. We cherish them. I wished I could create a hybrid human flower, to mix these two into one. And I also painted many water colour and acrylic works that became a part of these final images, what I call hybrid works.
Museswas 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. I loved that! 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 was another driving force in creating this collection, as I went through many losses during this time. I really 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.”
This interview was originally published in Imagicasa Art 2019. You can still order this issue through our webshop.
Images © Christy Lee Rogers