Small talk with Christy Lee Rogers

The artist on her underwater photographs ahead of her first ever China show

Christy Lee Rogers is an artist who makes dramatic and enchanting underwater photographs that have drawn comparisons with the Baroque masters and even Caravaggio. With her first ever exhibition in China opening at Art Labor this month, she talks to Time Out Shanghai about her work.

On shooting photos
I have everybody immersed in the water, but I’m outside of the water. We shoot at night so I use big spotlights to create contrast and get the shadows. I’m bending all the rules of photography and I’m not following any of the rules for lighting. It’s like life; you’re just experimenting and you don’t know what you’re going to find.

On timelessness
I really just try to communicate something true inside of me. I feel like there is timelessness to it, so maybe that’s what I’m trying to communicate – that’s there’s this circle of life, this unending something that has no place or time.

On inspiration
I’m from Hawaii so water is important to me; I find it very purifying and spiritually cleansing. When I was living in LA it was dry and I needed the water so I was often at my friend’s pools. I was doing a photo shoot one day by a friend’s pool and I said ‘why don’t you get in the pool?’ She got in with all her clothes on and I was fascinated when I saw the images because they were unlike anything I’d seen before.

On Baroque
It was definitely something that happened by chance. As soon as I put up my first collection everyone was saying this in the press. I shoot at night [and] the lighting create[s] this beautiful Baroque effect. There’s vulnerability and frustration but also beauty and freedom [in my work]. Putting that dichotomy together is
fascinating because that’s what we live every day.

On challenges
Working with the models in water is one of the biggest challenges. It’s really hard to be in the water
for very long and be beautiful, light and airy. There have been times where I thought I should work with a synchronised swimmer or a diver, but I want to shoot a real person going through real experiences. I want to shoot their vulnerability, their beauty, their overcoming the struggles they have in the water.

The Eternal Aquatic is at Art Labor Gallery from July 4 - August 18. See full event details