Born in Bahrain, self-taught photographer Zena Holloway fulfils her passion for underwater photography with defining images. “I fell in love with the ocean. That was the start. The coral reefs and the exciting underwater marine life lit by striking rays of sunlight are hard not to love. It sounds horribly cliché, but the sense of adventure and beauty was breath-taking”. She stated when we had a brief conversation with her about her work.
Her “passion”, has produced works like Waterbabies and Creatures. However, it was her most recent series Flowers for Jeju: The Last Mermaids which caught our interest. It is a body of work that is powerful in its premise and amazing in its application.
In this eerie yet magical series, she captures “the disappearing way of life of the haenyeo” a group of free diving women from South Korea. Skilfully she brings; myth, reality, legend and a social voice colliding in fine art theatrical images which are wonderfully composed.
But for all the beauty of these “mermaids” captured in their suspended environments there is a sadness. The modern world’s rapacious appetite for destruction is a telling back story (if you will). The haenyeo are part of a tradition of women who free dive for the survival of their families. But as modern day encroaches (and destroys the environments they dive in) the haenyeo also face the spectre of their own demise.
“We live in a time of rapid ecological, industrial and technological change that is threatening all life. It’s interesting to me that the fate of the haenyeo seem entwined with the quality of the oceans they harvest. In the end its just photography but perhaps it can help to get people quietly active about environmental issues that affect our oceans like plastic pollution or over fishing. It’s something we can all contribute to. I’d like my children’s children to grow up and have the opportunity to explore the same remarkable and diverse marine life that I’ve enjoyed”. She added, “Increasingly the aim of my work is to disarm the viewer with seemingly wistful and beguiling imagery but behind the beauty of the image I’m also trying to invite questions about the deteriorating quality of our environment; particularly the oceans.
The threats to our environment despite naysayers are real and desperate. The beauty captured by Zena Holloway only helps to exacerbate the idea and feelings that we must act to ensure we do not loose such beauty and communities forever.