THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX: Adventure Photography

Photograph: Zena Holloway
A swan about to take flight from a snow-covered landscape or a rhino charging menacingly; an otherworldly “creature” dancing underwater, her dress splayed out like tendrils seductively ensnaring you into her surreal world; a young novice monk meditating inside a Burmese temple, while shards of light pierce the incense smoke above his head; three fine art photographers take their viewers on unique, and often intriguing journeys, inspiring them to look at the world with a fresh perspective.

Photograph: Zena Holloway


Photograph: Zena Holloway
A 20ft-deep tank, 750,000 liters of water, five hours to set up and eight hours to photograph beautiful gowns by the likes of Elie Saab and Oscar de la Renta:  Zena Holloway’s fashion shoots will often be an unusual adventure for her models who have to pose while holding their breath underwater and learn to take silent direction. The resulting images are stunning, transporting viewers into a world of beautiful creatures suspended in time and space.

Renown internationally for her poetic photography, Zena Holloway started somewhat traditionally. Having received an inexpensive underwater camera as an 18th birthday present while she was working as a SCUBA dive guide in Egypt, she taught herself some basics and started shooting marine life before moving on to taking souvenir photos for tourists. Determined to make a career combining her twin passions, she returned to London and worked for a while in the film industry before getting her first professional commission taking promotional shots of an aftershave for Faberge

The creative image of a model looking in a mirror but picturing himself swimming under the sea combined the surreal with underwater photography, which has become a hallmark of Holloway’s photography over the last twenty years. “When you shoot underwater you become a vessel for telling stories differently. Often you get things out of people — an expression, a gesture — you would not get on land, which I find quite interesting. Their way of posing and moving, may be quite different; they can be more contained in their movement or quite extrovert,” she says.

Though she has also undertaken some shoots in the open sea, she more often creates her dream worlds in the controlled environment of a pool, and she prefers not to use SCUBA diving gear, but instead holds her breath in sync with her models.
Photograph: Zena Holloway

Editing plays an important role in the final image and this sometimes means any indication the model is floating underwater (bubbles, shards of lights, the water surface) is removed to create an even more disquieting world that will draw viewers in. “People look at the image and can’t quite process it, they are not really sure at what they are looking at. And I like that.” she says.

As a fine art photographer, Holloway increasingly wants to use her work to promote important agendas related to the environment. For her latest series, Flowers for Jeju: The Last Mermaids, she brings attention to the disappearing way of life of the haenyeo, the free diving fisherwomen who harvest seafood from the waters that surround South Korea’s Jeju Island. Today, most haenyeo are well into their later years, with some as old as 80, but Holloway preferred to portray them as they once were: young and free. 

Photograph: Drew Hopper

When he’s traveling, Drew Hopper seeks to tap the knowledge of locals. “Often, like everything, it’s not what you know, but who you know,” he muses, pointing out that connecting with likeminded people on the road can prove more valuable than having expensive new equipment. With this approach the Australian travel and landscape photographer has been able to get access to sites and learn the best locations and times to capture beautiful atmospheric scenes, such as a man by Pushkar Lake, India performing the Poornima Maha Aarti, a prayer for peace and prosperity only performed on the night of the full moon, or a novice monk praying by a giant Buddha inside a remote temple in Bagan, Myanmar.

“To me, photography is all about the emotional connection that an image can convey,” he says, pointing out that it can sometimes be quite distressing, as when one morning he came across an Indian woman standing on the steps by the River Ganges overlooking the body of a dead child floating on the water. “It didn't feel appropriate taking a picture, but I knew if I didn't then I would have regretted not documenting the sight.”

Hoppers admits being more interested in documenting what he sees rather than creating pieces of art, adding “even if my imagery does appear to be more ‘fine art,’ I feel it goes beyond just a pretty image,” adding that capturing compelling images provides “a piece to a bigger and more in-depth truth.”

A lot of preparation goes into his backpacking journeys, though once on the ground he believes in “just going with the flow and letting it unfold.”

Photograph: Drew Hopper

One time in Hanoi, Vietnam, as he was just after opening the balcony door of the hotel room he’d just checked into, he spotted a Vietnamese lady walking down the street, balancing her yoke on her shoulder. He grabbed his camera and took a beautiful overhead shot of the products she was carrying as they were perfectly balanced, color wise: “I just love how spontaneous travel can be, especially travelling as a photographer. Photo opportunities are everywhere, and sometimes the best photos are those images you least expect.”

As a travel photographer Hopper feels it’s important to capture images that define his experiences: “So if I’m feeling a sense of mystery when visiting a majestic location then this is how I’ll represent the place that I’m documenting.”

Photograph: David Yarrow

David Yarrow lives the life of a true adventurer. He has waded through a crocodile river in South Sudan to reach the Dinka cattle camp in South Sudan and has come face to face with a grizzly bear in Alaska. He’s had elephants kick his equipment as though playing soccer and he’s been chased by rhinoceros.

From the vast African deserts to the frozen Arctic tundra, Yarrow captures wildlife we have all become familiar with from the comfort of our armchairs, yet still manages to surprise viewers with arresting black and white images that offer a unique point of view, often from the ground looking up. Instead of using long lenses like many other wildlife photographers, Yarrow often leaves his camera on the ground – sometimes setting it in elephant dung or covering the case in Old Spice, because the scent attracts lions – and then activates the shutter remotely. This haphazard technique has resulted in many broken cameras, but does allow him to bring us face to face, so to speak, with his subjects, creating memorable photos.

He attributes his best shots to planning and perseverance – he once spent 28 hours lying face down on a boat off the coast near Cape Town; it yielded an incredible shot of a great white shark emerging from the water to catch a seal. His unusual angles can require hours of research and elaborate planning with countless attempts before finally getting the winning shot. In fact the photographer has said he considers he has had a good year if he has captured three great photographs,  “because for an image to transcend at every level requires a material amount of luck as well as creative courage and technical fluency.”
Photograph: David Yarrow

“Great photographs implicitly should be rare. They tend to be moments in time that can never be repeated,” he wrote.

Most recently, he turned his focus away from wildlife to venture into the floating slum town of Makoko in Lagos. Chest deep into some of the world’s dirtiest water and surrounded by the smoke of cooking fire, Harrow composed his photograph using two central characters in a long boat, which he cast because he wanted to showcase, “both the beauty and dignity of black West Africa.” 

“In my mind, if a contemporary photograph is sufficiently powerful in content and evocative in light and line to be looked at for a long time, there is a chance that it has something which is art – not reportage. But there is a third variable needed to elevate an image to a higher pantheon – the dynamic of relevance. This is the most elusive of the “Holy Trinity” of factors I strive to attain.” 

AS WRITTEN FOR Christie's International Real Estate magazine (April -  June 2017)