Growing up near the beach in St. Vincent, self-taught photographer Nadia Huggins has always seen the sea as a place of play, but also of inspiration. “I always wanted to know what below an island looked like, in both a topographic sense and also how an object is visually affected below the surface of the water,” she tells It’s Nice That. Now her images perfectly capture the liminal zone below the water’s depths. Here objects like the hull of a boat or the curve of a body become alien, light pours in and undulating seaweed and rocks glisten with the magic of a parallel universe.
“Piercing the surface is the moment of transition and to me, it always feels like I’m moving into some strange sci-fi world or having an Alice Through the Looking Glass moment,” Nadia explains. “I’m not a scientist, exploring some deep unknown depths of the world’s oceans – I’m relatively close to the shore, trying to reconfigure ways of seeing the familiar. The sea is void of the social constructs that dictate the way we interact on land, that transition zone to me allows for a re-imagined self.”
This concept has been particularly important in her latest series Circa No Future, which is currently on show at Greenwich Peninsula’s Now Gallery until 17 November. Shot on the coast around St Vincent and the Grenadines, the series captures a group of adolescent boys as they play in the sea, their bodies both buoyed up and made vulnerable by the water. In Nadia’s tender images, their limbs are made abstract and unfamiliar by the refraction of the waves – a clever metaphor for the strangeness of puberty. While the boys prove themselves to each other by plummeting off the rocks, once in the water they’re free from any posturing demanded by their masculinity and are at the mercy of the ocean.
“The inherent need to survive, especially in the sense of having to resurface to regain breath is what creates the moment vulnerability that I am trying to capture,” Nadia says. “This goes across the board for everyone in spite of race, gender and sexuality. The body is generally a very awkward thing once it is placed in water. It’s an environment that we are not designed to survive in.”
Given the nature of Nadia’s work, her biggest challenge is working with the unpredictable nature of the sea. Water clarity and light are essential for good shots, and over the past five years of shooting on an Olympus TG2, Nadia has developed a formula of time of day, water depth and stretches of coast that give her the best possible images. The series on show as part of Circa No Future has been captured over the past five years, with many commissioned by Now Gallery curator Kaia Charles, especially for the exhibition.
Although Nadia’s take on the vulnerability of adolescence is refreshing, perhaps what’s so exciting about her work is the way she plays with water as a medium. Just as it can be a positive and negative force for swimmers, the ocean is an unreliable artistic collaborator, making Nadia’s etherial glimpses of life under the waves all the more special.