Wouldn’t it be great if mermaids really did exist? One of my favourite films growing up was Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ and the idea of floating around in a fantastical, underwater kingdom and basking on exotic shores has probably contributed to my usual choice of travel destination. Keep your mountains and deserts – take me to the coast! Plus they had some pretty serious tropical tune-age going on down there under the sea. But I’m certainly not the first to be inspired by the idea of beautiful creatures floating around in the depths, the idea of mermaids and sea nymphs have captured the imagination of writers and artists since way back when.
From the Greeks sending Odysseus and his crew to face the captivating Sirens luring sailors to death on the rocks to the creation of the famous Weeki Wachee Springs mermaid show where synchronised swimmers perform carefully choreographed routines in tanks at the Florida campground, mermaid lore has survived the centuries. In fact, one of Copenhagen’s most famous attractions is the bronze statue of Hans Christian Andersen’s little mermaid, who gave up life under the sea for the love of a prince (who was totally oblivious to her attentions even though she saved his life – she’d have been much better off crying it all out into her fried seaweed before splashing her way off to some gorgeous South Pacific island to wash that man right out of her hair).
Well, the most recent artist to play out his mermaid fantasies is photographer Benjamin Von Wong who decided to take to Bali, the paradise island of the gods, and set up a shoot off shore in the vicinity of a 50-year-old, sunken shipwreck, 25 metres (82 feet) beneath the waves with a couple of beautiful models. But Von Wong didn’t just want to photo-shop in the girls and what self-respecting mermaid’s going to don an unflattering SCUBA mask? Turns out these models weren’t just your average stunners but professional free-divers – practically honorary mermaids – with the ability to hold their breath for several minutes at a time without batting an eye.
Nora Li, a Jakarta free-diving record holder, has the amazing ability to dive to depths of 36 metres and hold her breath for 3 minutes 36 seconds and was keen to be involved in the project. Von Wong also enlisted English rose, Camilla Argent, a lady capable of diving to 36 metres and holding her breath for an astonishing 4 minutes and 40 seconds. For a girl like me who’s trademark swim move is ‘the turtle’, I can only imagine the skill and nerves of steel these women must possess when diving unaided 25 METRES (I feel capitals are justified here as my mind is officially blown) below into the unpredictable currents of the Indonesian ocean.
Accompanied by a crack team of 7 safety divers equipped to rush to the rescue and provide air at timed intervals, the fearless women donned ethereal gowns donated by international designer Ali Charisma – a generous donation indeed as the merciless seawater was bound to ruin the garments – and struck their most graceful poses, all whimsical fabrics and floating tresses. How cool, calm and collected they look despite being at times literally tied to parts of the shipwreck to hold them in place against the buffeting tide.
With a lack of studio lighting, Von Wong had to rely on a combination of nature and camera strobes in order to get that perfect picture and the results deliver an atmospheric snapshot into a fairy tale, underwater kingdom that just about makes me believe in magic. And mermaids.
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