Here’s an idea for an 18-year-old birthday gift: underwater photography. Worked for my daughter!
My eldest daughter Evelyn already appeared on the blog, along with her best childhood friend Lillian (see photo on the left). They were 14 back then and came to my Manhattan studio for a just-for-fun photoshoot. She turns 18 this very October day and the turbulent year 2020 transformed what was supposed to be an underwater prom photoshoot into an 18-year-old birthday gift.
Evelyn graduated from high school this year and the talks about a prom photoshoot loomed early in the year. Then coronavirus hit, we all went into a lockdown (I documented it in my community), all schools went remote, graduation parties were cancelled, and the celebrations scaled down to a family level. Some were held outdoors with a few friends and family like the one I had a pleasure to capture. Proper senior portraits were vastly missing this year.
We still wanted to remember our daughter as a senior, a young woman coming of age. We also had the unused prom dresses… I suggested we do an underwater photoshoot so these senior portraits stood out regardless of the situation. We didn’t think of it as an 18-year-old birthday gift yet.
Evelyn knows water well. At age 4, I trained her to be with me underwater before she learned to swim. She would cling to my back as I dove. In the past, I used to swim and was able to cross a 50m (164 ft) Olympic-size pool, staying underwater for almost 3 minutes. I can still clock over 2 minutes so holding my breath longer than average helps me with underwater photography as I don’t use diving equipment.
Then, she swam competitively for her school team for 6 years until age 14. Too bad her high school did not have a swim team…
Summer got surprisingly busy for me in such a tough year when some went out of business or lay low while on unemployment. Almost no events but lots of family-related photo sessions. They kept me afloat but were requiring significantly more time than events to conduct and post-process. I had to briefly put the project on hold, then re-approached it. By that time, Evelyn found a summer job at Party City, making us reschedule the shoot.
She got admitted to the Binghamton University and at some point even suggested we postpone until next year. Then a narrow window of opportunity came and we finally grabbed it although I didn’t even get two hours to work with her. It was September by that time so in my mind, the shoot slowly transformed into an 18-year-old birthday gift.
I do my underwater photography with a minimum of 4 hours. Because its flow is very slow and ineffective, longer than usual time is needed to get a greater variety of photos that are not ruined by a number of unique factors working against us. Evelyn did not require a usual warm up and practice which other underwater clients need. We just focused on a couple of ideas and even managed to do one outfit change.
Oftentimes, when I look at my underwater photography, I think of paintings. The state of unreal floating and bursts of colored fabrics always stir my imagination. I tried one unusual technique for the previous underwater photoshoot but wanted to apply a different feel to a few of Evelyn’s. Perhaps I thought of a homage to our trips to the art museums when she was little… I went for an Impressionism take.
I had the first image printed on a large 24×36 canvas and it is my 18-year-old birthday gift to my smart, caring, and beautiful daughter. Happy birthday, Evelyn!
P.S. I also worked on another girl’s 18-year-old birthday gift this year, shot in the empty New York City ravaged by the pandemic and BLM riots. We did it on the streets and I invite you to check it out, along with other youth photography.
A couple of behind-the-scenes shots, along with our recent tea drinking (if you are ever near Mount Kisco, NY, I recommend stopping by the cute Mimi’s Coffee House).
We celebrated Evelyn’s birthday yesterday. The canvas print handed in!