So Iara Mandyn is a San Francisco-based scuba-certified underwater model and photographer specializing in all things aquatic and mermaidly. She’s been modelling in and out of the water for over seven years and has, of late, been getting more and more pulled into the mermaid side of things. Because mermaids are very alluring, as we all well know, and I suspect that in coming months Iara’s land-bound human friends will have a more and more difficult time getting her attention.
Look at these gorgeous photos:
I know. Iara has also just completed her first mermaid video, which is quite stunning:
So who better to offer advice to aspiring mermaids? Our Q and A follows.
How long have you been an underwater model/how did you get into underwater modeling?
After I graduated from college I was doing some modeling but was unsure as to where I wanted to go with it. I never knew professional underwater models existed until I discovered Vanessa Tarachin, a truly lovely and talented underwater model. Vanessa introduced me to underwater photographer/cinematographer Jack Gittings and we did our first shoot a couple of years ago. That was all it took – I was smitten! The physical and technical aspects combined with the freedom and creativity that I feel when I’m working underwater make it a really exciting experience. I’ve been drawn to water all of my life, I can’t fully explain it; water pervades my dreams and has always been a great source of strength and comfort to me.
Can you tell me about your mermaid work?
Underwater modeling and mermaid work go hand in hand so it was a natural progression. Fathom Films, the company I co-own, has been involved with mermaids for a long time. Jack actually filmed for Splash. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of underwater modeling and mermaids and tells vivid stories about everything from the origins of Weeki Wachee Springs to working with Daryl Hannah. After we ordered my first tail from The Mertailor, I started digging deeper and discovered the mermaid community that exists now. The strong, empowered mermaids today who do everything from bringing dreams to life to saving the environment are really inspiring. We actually just filmed my first video as a mermaid; I’m not sure where it will lead but I definitely want to keep exploring!
You’re also an underwater photographer. Can you tell me about that?
I have a fine arts degree and love making things: from sets for shoots, to costumes, to the photographs themselves. I like the serene, fantastical, dreamlike quality to underwater work that allows one to step outside of our day to day world. Like underwater modeling, underwater photography presents unique technical challenges. It gives me a whole set of new parameters to work with. I do video work as well, sometime I’d love to try my hand at underwater music videos.
What should aspiring mermaids know about underwater modeling?
I’d recommend learning about general underwater modeling to any aspiring mermaid who wants to do aquatic work! Underwater work can be tough enough as it is, adding a tail can make it even more challenging. Anyone seriously considering doing aquatic work should also get scuba certified and learn about staying safe. Diving is a ton of fun and opens up all sorts of opportunities; certification is required to be a Weeki Wachee mermaid, and for most films.
What’s the biggest challenge of posing underwater?
What I’ve learned as I’ve been working with models is that it’s different for everyone. Some people have no problem with getting water up their nose but get claustrophobic with clothing on. Other people can see all right underwater, while some can’t see at all. Holding your breath, getting water up your nose, keeping your eyes open, and maintaining relaxed facial expressions are the major initial challenges. You have to figure out how to overcome a lot of things that go against our nature as humans. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of breath hold training and it’s shown me how much your mental state can affect your physical one. I can hold my breath much longer underwater than on land. My current record is 5 minutes!
As a photographer, what do you look for in an underwater model/mermaid?
First and foremost, comfort in water. It goes beyond good swimming skills. There are people who are naturally more aquatically inclined, and that comfort isn’t going to be learned in a few hours during a photo shoot. Previous modeling experience is also helpful. When you’re on land and working with a new model you can direct them, but underwater communication is a huge challenge. Unless someone is already an established underwater model, I always do a test shoot first so I can get a feel for their abilities and allow them to acclimate to the environment.
How do you explain the allure of mermaids?
What I find most fascinating about mermaids is their broad appeal: crossing age, gender, and cultural lines, mermaids are symbols that tap into the human psyche. A mermaid’s hybrid human form connects us to it in a stronger way than to mythological creatures like unicorns or dragons. Other hybrid creatures such as the centaur, harpy, and Minotaur aren’t as naturally aesthetically appealing in my opinion. Mermaids are strong, free spirited, and inhabit a world that we can only begin to imagine what it would be like to live in. They are both foreign and familiar – a powerful combination.
Have you always been attracted to mermaids?
I’ve always been attracted to anything having to do with water. When I was younger I did go through a huge mermaid phase because of the Disney movie: little mermaid sleeping bag, mermaid doll (it changed colors underwater!), you name it. My dad read to us every night and made up all sorts of stories frequently involving mermaids and water. One day he said “now kids, I’m going to take you to see a REAL mermaid,” and brought us to a viewing of Splash. Although I was probably equally into unicorns and other fantastical creatures, that experience definitely stuck with me.
Do you have any additional advice for aspiring mermaids?
People are often bound by conventions and it’s hard to get out of that, but the truth is you won’t regret following your dreams in life. If it’s what you really love to do I say work hard, stay true to yourself, and go for it!