Alicia Ward — higher generally known as “Alicia Underwater” because of her wildly well-liked Instagram account — is on a mission: Showcase the wonderful aquatic wildlife of Hawaii in essentially the most respectful method, not disturbing the surroundings and, in actual fact, making it a nicer place for all. Ward isn’t only a nature photographer or a journey photographer, she’s an adventurer and a conservationist, and she or he and her husband, Jim, have made a concerted effort to go away their backdrops higher than once they arrived by cleansing up after themselves and those that got here earlier than them.
Not solely does Ward take images of nature, she additionally creates a fantasy behind her images, snapping pics of buddies and shoppers who wish to remodel themselves to change into part of the aquatic backdrop as mermaids and mermen. Her firm, See By Sea, encompasses a “Mermaid Expertise” — creating a few of the most vivid, imaginative images on the Web.
This week, we spoke to Alicia about taking nature images to a brand new stage, utilizing her expertise to create photos of what could possibly be, and displaying off the great thing about Hawaii whereas, by all of it, ensuring the land she loves a lot will stay preserved all through generations.
What’s your motivation in your images?
I believe as a child, I all the time felt drawn to the ocean and to the wildlife inside it. So I assumed as a younger baby, that I simply wished to be a marine biologist. However my mother was a hobbyist photographer, and so proper across the age of 15, I found free diving, and I had really utilized for a job as a deckhand on a ship. My first day, I met the photographer on board, and she or he was telling me how she labored seven days every week and she or he was searching for somebody to rent, and I mentioned, “Effectively, I’ve all the time wished to do images, and I’ve by no means executed underwater images, however I’d like that can assist you.” So she handed me her whole digital camera rig, and she or he informed me once we pulled as much as a snorkel spot, she mentioned, “In the event you can free dive down 25 toes and take an image of the college of fish under us, I’ll rent you. I’ll speak to the proprietor of the corporate, and as a substitute of being a deckhand, you is usually a photographer.”
In order that’s how I actually received thrown into it, as a result of I began to work the very subsequent day.
Yeah, nevertheless it was a fantastic house for me to develop and be taught and develop my very own eye, as a result of I had been thrown into it. I simply needed to begin.
So that you already liked the animals you have been seeing. However the ocean is a wild place… are there any that make you nervous?
I’m not afraid of any animal specifically. I’d say that I’m a bit of extra cautious of animals like eels. Certainly one of my buddies was bitten by an eel. It was most likely about 5 years in the past, however what’d occurred was she caught an octopus, and eels will eat octopus, so she’s swimming above the reef with this octopus in her hand, and an eel got here out and grabbed onto her arm, and her physique went into poisonous shock due to the micro organism within the eel’s mouth. She needed to be airlifted to the hospital. That was a reasonably scary expertise, however apart from that, so far as sharks and whatnot go, I don’t worry them.
I believe that I’ve a wholesome respect for them, however I’m not afraid of them.
Bought you. What would you say are the friendliest of the animals that you just encounter?
I believe it’s tough to anthropomorphize animals, as a result of what could also be curiosity could possibly be misunderstood as friendliness. I’d say the best to view are most likely dolphins, as a result of they’re curious animals. They’ll come up and so they’ll examine their environment, and who you might be, and what you’re doing, after which they’ll go about their method.
A few of my favourite photos that you’ve got are those with mermaids. I’ve a factor for mermaids, myself. What impressed this sequence?
My finest pal and I have been looking the Web earlier than it was what it’s at present, and there have been a pair photos right here and there of some gals on the market on this planet “mermaiding,” basically. They have been very proficient and doing loads of cool issues with their work, however my pal and I observed that the 2 of them that we had pulled up have been each blonde-haired and had blue tails. My pal – she has jet black hair and porcelain pores and skin – and so she and I have been chatting at some point about how it could be so enjoyable to do one thing that was a bit of nearer to the mythological facet of it, the place the sirens have been darkish and harmful creatures, and way more moody — versus a lightweight, little mermaid state of affairs. So we received the concept to make a tail for my pal in order that I may her in it. There was loads of trial and error concerned, however we lastly ended up making a tail that match her, we put it within the water and took some images.
These images went fairly viral again then. Not less than earlier than “viral” was a factor.
It was actually cool. I spotted they have been a distinct segment for this, and an curiosity in it, and an appreciation for this sort of mythological artwork. I although it was kinda neat to mix a number of completely different expertise and humanities into one and actually give you one thing distinctive. Again then, there wasn’t loads of images like this on the market. That’s how that started off.
These girls are going underwater and posing. That’s wonderful, as a result of they give the impression of being so glamorous, you realize? And I’m sitting right here considering of how I’m underwater, and it’s not stunning.
It doesn’t really feel stunning…they will’t see something ’trigger it’s blurry underwater, and so they’ve received salt water operating up their sinuses, and so they’re attempting to pose and get arms and hair and toes and tail and every little thing excellent, so it’s really fairly a troublesome course of, however the final result is one thing that we take a look at it on the finish, and we’re like, “Okay, that was sorta good. That was well worth the torture.”
And the way lengthy does it take to get a shot?
Effectively, normally do periods for about an hour, and I’ve labored for a few of the finest underwater fashions on this planet, and I’ve labored with some “model new to underwater something” individuals as effectively. I’ll give it an hour and I all the time inform everyone, “If there’s only one picture that we like from this complete factor, then it was successful.” Typically there’ll be multiple. Numerous occasions we get fortunate and other people take path effectively, or the entire parts come collectively, and we’ll get a pair that we actually like.
Apart from the tremendous cool mermaid photos, I see photos right here the place you might be … And I assume that is your husband with you ’trigger I examine See By Sea, and you might be, I assume, extracting particles from the ocean? Are you able to inform me a bit of bit extra about that?
Certain. You hear in nationwide parks and simply form of round the place individuals say, “You must depart a spot higher than while you discovered it.” That’s how we really feel concerning the ocean too, and figuring out that we now have such a significant battle proper now with man-made air pollution within the ocean proper now. We do every little thing we will to attempt to help that battle in opposition to it. The items that we pull out could be as small as a water bottle, or as massive as a 600-pound internet, and each of them, whether or not it’s small or large, have a big impact on the environment. Anytime we encounter particles within the ocean, we choose it up, we take away it. If it’s recyclable, we’ll take it to the native middle right here. If it’s not recyclable, like if it’s a internet, there’s a internet processing and recycling facility right here that is part of our authorities system.
We’ll work with them, and we’ll carry it over, after which they handle it from there. We simply wanna depart the ocean a bit of bit higher than once we discovered it.
How usually do you guys exit and do issues like this?
We get out on the water no less than three to 4 occasions every week, if no more. On each journey, if there’s something that we see, we’ll pull over, we’ll cease, we’ll choose it up. Some days, relying on the present, the winds, the swell, some days we’ll see nothing in any respect, and it’s superior. There are different days the place we’re stoping each 5 minutes to choose up one thing new, and it’s the strangest of issues, too.
We choose up loads of hamper baskets, like laundry baskets, and loads of them normally have Japanese writing on them, so we all know that they’ve traveled fairly a distance. The opposite day, we picked up the bumper from a automobile, which was new. We discover TV’s, nets, bottles, medication, every kind of oddities on the market.
I’ve additionally examine you and your husband’s tales, individually, and so they’re each fairly the story of how you bought to Hawaii and began See By Sea, and the way you acquired the eagerness for the water. How did you guys meet?
Okay. So let’s see. About eight years in the past, my household, my mother, my dad, and my sister have been transferring from Hawaii to South Carolina, and so they wished me to come back with them, however I had simply stop my job as a barista and a waitress to pursue underwater images full time. I knew that I couldn’t actually comply with that keenness in South Carolina, so I used to be wanting into the concept of perhaps transferring to the Caribbean in order that I could possibly be nonetheless near my household, but in addition nonetheless pursuing this path that I had simply determined for myself.
There was that I subscribe to referred to as Islands Journal which options completely different islands around the globe. In one of many points I used to be studying at some point, there was an article a couple of man who was a photographer and a marine biologist in Grand Cayman, and studying by the article, I used to be like, “That is just about precisely what I wish to do, and within the space that I’m contemplating doing it, so perhaps I’ll simply attain out to this man and see if he thought that transferring midway around the globe was an inexpensive concept to pursue my dream.” I appeared for an internet site for him on-line, however after all he didn’t have one, so I ended up discovering him on Fb. I despatched him a pal request, and I used to be simply typing up this letter of, “You don’t know me, however right here’s why I added you,” as a result of I don’t normally add those that I don’t know, when he accepted my pal request. The simplest method that I can relate it’s to think about while you’re calling somebody and also you anticipate to get their voicemail, so you might have every little thing that you just’re going to say all deliberate out, after which they choose up the telephone, and also you simply neglect every little thing that you just’re going to say. I used to be actually embarrassed, and I didn’t say something to him. We didn’t communicate to one another for six months or one thing like that.
At some point, I had knocked my two entrance tooth out browsing, and I posted an image of it on Fb, and I used to be like, “In the event you see me not smiling recently, it’s as a result of I’ve no tooth. I promise I’m getting it fastened.” It was really proper after that that Jim reached out to me, and he was like, “I don’t actually know why we’re buddies, you toothless individual, however I actually am glad that this connection was made nonetheless it was made, as a result of I’ve all the time wished to come back as much as Hawaii, and I respect your dolphin images. I’m simply saying that you just’ve received somebody who helps your work.” I wrote him again, and I informed him how I had discovered him, and why I had added him and whatnot. We received to speaking, and a month later, he had a ticket booked from Grand Cayman to Hawaii to come back meet me, and it simply fell into place after that.
Wow, that’s superior. So now, you guys are capable of work collectively. That’s actually nice. I’ve been scouring your web site, as effectively, and I ran into the Mermaid Expertise, which isn’t only a picture shoot, or doesn’t should be only a picture shoot. Are you able to inform me extra about that, ’trigger that really seems actually cool.
Thanks. Yeah, so we carry shoppers out right here from all walks of life. Like I mentioned, a few of them run companies the place they do kids’s events. A few of them have simply all the time wished to be a mermaid, and a few of them are skilled fashions, and so individuals will come out right here and work with us on these mermaid experiences. Primarily what we’ll do is we are going to meet them and go over the security of free diving after which all through the course of the week, we’ll take them to a few completely different areas for 3 separate picture shoots, and we additionally incorporate video work into it as effectively. Then whereas we’re at these completely different locations, we’ll additionally enable them to snorkel round and expertise a few of our favourite native websites.
They’ll do any variety of issues: We generally take them to lava tubes to do recent water shoots, or we’ll take them to a shallow reef the place we will get fish and see coral. Or once in a while, we’ll exit to deeper water, and perhaps we’ll get fortunate and spinning dolphins shall be close by, or manta rays, or one thing of the kind, ’trigger Kona has such an abundance of wildlife. It’s actually enjoyable. We’ve had the chance to satisfy loads of fairly spectacular individuals from all around the world by these occasions. We’ve lately branched out to Tahiti as effectively.
That’s very cool. And I noticed you will get a customized made tail. Do you make them?
Okay. I gotta know. So I do know…I bear in mind you mentioned together with your pal, the primary pal that you just shot, you mentioned you had made her tail. How do you simply know the way to do that?
I didn’t. It was wonderful. My poor pal…that very first tail, I couldn’t determine easy methods to do it in any respect, so I ended up stitching her right into a bunch of neoprene, and sticking her with a pin so many occasions. Poor factor. I’m positive she nonetheless has little pin prick scars from it. What’s loopy is that the web is such an exquisite factor. Occurring YouTube, after which simply going by loads of trial and error, myself, has actually led me to this new method of doing it.
What I do at present is make silicone mermaid tails, and there are a number of different tail makers on the market as effectively, and all of us have our distinctive type and design, and so it’s fairly cool. It’s like any person shopping for your jewellery or your artwork, or whatnot. So yeah. Simply there have been loads of errors to start with, and since silicone shouldn’t be an affordable materials, there have been loads of very costly errors to start with, however now I’ve received it nailed down. Purchasers, in the event that they wanna come out and have their very own customized silicone mermaid tail prepared for them, they only should let me know a month prematurely and I can have it right here ready for his or her arrival.
Superior. And so the proceeds from that go in your efforts for See By Sea?
Proper. So that they go into all of the work that we do to take away trash and particles and to actually make efforts in the direction of defending our native surroundings.
What has been your favourite picture thus far?
Oh, that’s robust. Huh. My favourite that I’ve taken…let’s see…I’d say that’s actually troublesome. Okay, so there’s one which stands out in my head, and it’s not one which different individuals actually discover or respect a lot. It was only a actually cool expertise for me, so I’ll inform you about this one:
I used to be within the water with a pod of spinner dolphins, and the pod was on my left simply passing in entrance of me, transferring to the appropriate, and I used to be free diving, however I used to be getting out about 15 toes. You don’t wish to dive on the dolphins. You dive first, await them to strategy and move, after which resurface. You’re on a protracted breath maintain with the intention to not disturb them. Anyway, because the pod was passing in entrance of me, there was one little juvenile dolphin, and thru the lens, I can see him doing … They do that predictable wiggle earlier than they soar, and so he did this little wiggle, and I mentioned, “Oh he’s gonna soar,” and so I aimed my digital camera in the direction of the floor of the water, which is about 15 toes above me, and the water was so calm that day, it was actually glassy. This little dolphin jumped up out of the water and thru what we name “Snell’s Window,” which is simply an underwater images time period. It simply means while you’re wanting by the floor of the water to topside. Anyway, by Snell’s Window, you possibly can see this little dolphin completely. He’s simply tack sharp by the floor of the water, although he’s above water and I’m underwater. It’s simply … You see his little water path the place he goes to leap out, and it was simply such a singular second for me, as a result of it was not a photograph that I’d seen earlier than. I simply thought it was cool that we had a world reversal for a second there.
Are there any plans for extra above water images or are you married to the ocean?
We do above water images every now and then. I believe I favor underwater as a result of I just like the problem of it. We simply accomplished a maternity shoot final week, and we’ll do lengthy exposures and a few enjoyable stuff. We do maintain them within the combine, I identical to to concentrate on underwater images and put it on the market a bit extra.
What are your speedy objectives in your images? Or is it that some day, you simply wish to go full on into your See By See efforts? Or will images all the time be a factor?
Pictures will all the time be a factor. I believe it’s an attention-grabbing steadiness that Jim and I attempt to maintain, however the good factor about it’s that we love each the issues that we do. We love images, and we love getting on the ocean, and it’s fairly simple to mix the 2 of them. They only go hand in hand for us at present, and so any time we’re out on the ocean, we’ll all the time be taking images. The ocean is precisely the place we wanna be taking photos anyway, so I’d say our final purpose is to have See By Sea develop a bit extra method of teaching individuals and taking them out to expertise this house that we love, and in addition with the ability to the wildlife that we see, taking part in analysis that’s ongoing with our native wildlife, after which additionally getting a number of photos of our shoppers having fun with themselves as effectively. These reminiscences, they final without end, so it’s fairly cool having each hand in hand.
Some images that includes Alicia, by her accomplice Jim Ward:
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