As a diver first and photographer second, Zena Holloway is a world-renowned creator of spectacular underwater photographs. Zena shoots fine art, editorial, celebrities, sport, motion, fashion and lifestyle, and incorporates her love for the underwater world into her images.
Born in Bahrain but raised between London and the rest of the world, her love for water and photography has allowed her to work across the globe and hold exhibitions in cities such as Paris, Seoul and Toronto. Holloway’s passion and spark for creativity is certainly something to be admired as she not only captures images but also works with video to create short underwater films for clients and her own personal work.
Diving into a world that is foreign to most of us allows her to capture people in a creative and intuitive way. Holloway says that her love for water brings the mystery and magic to the work that she creates.
“For some reason, many people express themselves in an incredibly natural and intuitive way when they’re underwater; becoming perfect subjects for telling stories through body language. I try to tap into this space between myth and reality,” she said.
As an underwater photographer Holloway is faced with quite a few challenges in her day-to-day work. These can include murky water, cold temperatures and the pressures of a commercial shoot.
“The worst kind of problem beyond everything is crappy water. Fortunately I have a number of locations that I can rely on to be warm and most importantly clear, however turning up for a shoot and being faced with pea green soup to work in is so demoralising,” she said.
“There is never a quick fix and to continue with the shoot often means the results will not be technically good enough to use anyway. I once had a commercial shoot which needed to be rescheduled; thankfully the insurance covered the extra costs and the client was very understanding.”
Being self-taught and learning the skills on her own has been a “vertical learning curve” for Holloway, but said it was necessary to reach the place where she is at now.
“(Being self-taught) forced me to develop my own style which may not have happened if the path had been different. The business side of things is something that has taken me a couple of decades to feel comfortable with. For the bigger jobs I hire a freelance producer to manage the budgets. It is work that I loathe.”
In her downtime, Holloway loves to poke around flea markets in her search for objects she can use either around the home or in one of her photography shoots. Repurposing objects from local markets is a fantastic way for a photographer to not only save money, but give life to an otherwise unused, unwanted and unloved piece.
“I recently collected a vintage megaphone that used to be fixed to a wall at a circus. It’s aluminium, 1.25 metres high and is going to make the most wonderful underwater platform for a model some day or a channel to direct a stream of bubbles….I’m not sure yet.”
In general a photographer’s life can become pretty crammed. They are always working several weeks ahead and planning for a month that isn’t in anyone else’s thoughts but theirs. Time allotted to ‘winding down’ can often feel as though it is far and few between for some photographers.
“I don’t get nearly as much headspace as I would like. I have three kids of school age so I have learned to juggle and I plate spin quite nicely,” she said.
“My best time for creative thinking and problem solving usually occurs around 5am when the house is quiet. Relaxation is a large glass of wine and a great film – sadly also not as often as I would like!”
Fine-art or concept photography allows for a lot of creativity to be drawn upon by the photographer. As in our interview with fine art photographer Brooke Shaden, it is about photographing the imagination and using the medium of photography to tell a story. In an advertisement for Shangri-La, Holloway was commissioned to bring to life “a woman floating in a pool looking out onto the horizon of Taipei.”
“Shangri-La was an excellent commission to work on. I was approached by an AD in Hong Kong who had this beautiful concept of a woman floating in a pool looking out onto the horizon of Taipei,” she said.
“Shangri-La had just opened a new hotel in Taipei with a roof top pool so it was perfect for the client to tell the story and a wonderfully imaginative image to create. The budget wasn’t super but that is often the way these things go.”
“I fell in love with the brief and forfeited my fee to put towards production costs for the shoot. I’m really pleased that I did as the shoot was the touchstone for a couple of other projects that have come my way.”
E: The Queen has decided she would like her next portrait underwater. How would that photography shoot go; what would you do and how would you approach the brief?
ZH: Ha! That’s hilarious! Naturally I would approach it with the utmost professionalism and keep my ideas confidential! However seeing as you’ve asked, I guess you’d have to take advantage of her massive collection of priceless jewels. Dress her from head to toe in sparkling gems and have her perched on an underwater Neptune throne or arriving out of Bottecelli’s clam shell to greet her royal subjects.
E: As we’re overfishing our seas, and in Australia the Great Barrier Reef is becoming bleached from rising water temperatures, how would you convey the message of “save our oceans” or, “save our planet” in a photograph in your style?
ZH: A few years ago I was commissioned to shoot a “Save our Sharks” campaign for Greenpeace. It shows the role of the diver in a cage reversed with the role of a great white. I support 350.org; it’s a movement rising from the bottom up all over the world, to unite people to campaign for a better climate for everyone. It’s an easy way to lend a voice to petitioning industry and government for change.
If you want to delve into the depths with Zena Holloway, she’ll be running a workshop in the Spring in the Caribbean with Aqua Spirit. For more things Zena Holloway, check out her website at zenaholloway.com and keep up to date with her photography work on her Facebook page here.