So a couple years ago I was visiting Portland, Oregon, and stopped over at my friend Annaliese Moyer’s house to pose in her mermaid tank. As you do. The result was my author photo for Mermaid:
Annaliese has put together a whole body of mermaid photos taken in the tank. Here are a couple of gorgeous examples (and there will be more in the upcoming Mermaids magazine, now set to debut in February):
Plus a photo of the beautiful actress Jennifer Summerfield, whose thoughts on the experience, and general mermaidly advice, I will post tomorrow:
Annaliese also takes stunning pictures of live shows, horses, and all other manner of thing, so you should check out her website. But when she and I talked recently, it was all mermaid.
When did you start photographing mermaids, and how exactly did you become the proprietress of a real live mermaid tank?
I started photographing mermaids in my youth when sailing with my family. Sadly, all those Instamatic pictures were not of high enough quality for anyone to be able to make out the mermaids in them. I wonder now if that is part of what drove me subconsciously to become a professional photographer. It does seem awfully synchronous that I am photographing them now, doesn’t it?
My recent experience with mermaids came about as a result of the mermaid tank. On a local theatrical group’s page, I saw that Portland’s Theatre Vertigo wanted to get rid of their tank from their production of Freakshow. They needed to be out of the theater, and no one in the company could and/or wanted to give this glorious set piece a home. I mused that it would fit in with my kind of vintage/distressed kind of aesthetic, so I emailed to say I’d be interested. I was saddened to hear that someone else had claimed it first. But, their deadline day rolled around and I got a frantic phone call. The person who had dibs on the tank had not showed up. Could I get there with a truck and collect it… immediately? Luckily for me, my neighborhood is filled with inventors, and creatives and makers of all kinds, many of whom have trucks to aid in those efforts. I borrowed one, drove downtown, and claimed my tank. But, I did not yet know it was a mermaid tank. I did not even know what I might wind up doing with it.
Within a day or two, I heard from my friend Tanya Burka, world renowned aerialist. “Hey Annaliese. I am going to be in town next week. I owe you some modeling. Do you have anything in mind?” Hmmmm… tank… gorgeous performing artist/contortionist… MERMAID! Tanya was more than game to be the first mermaid in the tank. I made my first mermaid tail from a scary old lace tablecloth, and my friend John Wenderoth, one of said genius creative makers in my neighborhood, and a handsome devil, helped set up the tank on a stand in my carport. Yep, almost all the mermaid images to date were made in the carport. As I told him about the shoot that was shaping up, he said, “I’ll get in the tank with the mermaid lady.” And, immediately I saw the whole story for the shoot. That first shoot was grueling. Technically, I was flying by the seat of my pants. Water, reflections, electricity, submerged subjects… but, the result was magnificent. The images from that shoot were the most beautiful things I had ever created. One is the cover of my web site, and another graces my business card (and serves as the final end papers for last year’s Spectrum Art book).
Do you have any makeup and/or general beauty tips for mermaids?
Obviously, waterproof is required for mermaid make up. Most of my fair subjects have used regular make up and applied a theatrical product to keep make up in place, even in these extreme shooting conditions. One example is Ben Nye’s Liquid Set. It can also be mixed with non-waterproof make up to give it some staying power. Commercial waterproof make-up can also be used, but I always feel more secure with some wet set product on top. They are available from local theatrical supply stores or on line.
We have had mermaids with all sorts of looks, but I should tell you that people seem to be the most consistently drawn to the mermaids with long hair, either clouds of curls suspended around them or long streaming ribbons creating gossamer shapes in the tank. However, hair is just another thing that might not cooperate for the camera underwater. It tends to have a mind of its own. Practice, practice, practice my long haired beauties. If wigs are used, fasten them down tight. They come off in the water. Trust me.
I believe I was with you, Annaliese, the first time you yourself entered the mermaid tank. What was that like for you?
It was broiling hot day, and while I photograph the mermaids in the tank under cover of darkness (mysterious, no?), I was over heated and drenched in sweat by the end of that shoot. It seemed that not only would getting in the tank be a great way to cool off, but that being as I was asking some terrestrial maids to work underwater, I really should understand first hand just what the experience was like and what the demands were. If you are not a real mermaid it is HARD to play at being one and make it all pretty for the camera and its endless technical demands. Keep your eyes open! Don’t puff out your cheeks! Stay in the middle of the window! Don’t let the hair cover your face! Make the tail pretty! But, it is quite magical. I think every mermaid I have photographed has been exhausted by the end of their shoot but loathe to get out of the tank. I’d love to do it again.
What is the best way to go about photographing mermaids? Have you learned any special tips you can share?
I have only just begun my own exploration of photographing mermaids. Using the tank is excruciating—something different has gone wrong every single shoot. It is a very unforgiving environment. When I found myself thinking that it would be much easier to photographing underwater myself, I knew I was kidding myself. Of course, that is next on my list. I have all sorts of images in mind that will benefit from movement and space. I also want to look at some more above water looking in, and some over and under stuff. That is the fun of this project, it has so much possibility, and I feel just guided down the path by it all.
Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Make your dreams happen! But, do be safe. Build up to your final goal step by step. Don’t get in the water with a restricted range of movement off the bat, and never on your own. Look on line and find some of the great videos other mermaids have made, sharing their knowledge and experience. Haunt thrift store for bits of clothing that can easily be altered into suitable mermaid attire on the cheap. And, hey, call me—maybe we can collaborate and make some mermaid art happen!