Kailua Native Produces New Underwater Photo Exhibit

They might look like oil paintings, but Rogers creates her artwork in-camera.

Photos: Courtesy Christy Lee Rogers

The weightless bodies surrounded by bright, wobbling fabrics look like they have stepped from some classic painting by an Old Master on LSD. But these are large, luscious photographic prints. The otherworldly images in “An Underwater Odyssey,” Christy Lee Rogers’ newest body of work, are mesmerizing. Forms reach, spin and arc, moving in and out of focus as they trace a mysterious narrative line.

Rogers, who grew up in Kailua, splits her time between California and Hawaii. She shot “Odyssey” on Oahu over a period of seven months in 2009 and 2010. Composer Natalie Kawai is contributing a score that will accompany the show as it travels. “An Underwater Odyssey” makes its Hawaii stop at the Academy Art Center, mezzanine gallery.

For Rogers, the “Odyssey” title captures the elements of birth, life and death that fill this collection. “Shortly into my shooting schedule,” she says, “a good friend gave me Homer’s Odyssey and I was heavily inspired by the colorful descriptions of intriguing characters that Odysseus met along his journey.”

Rogers shoots subjects underwater using techniques she’s developed over the past seven years. “I always like to break the rules,” she says. “By using the refraction of light —where it bends passing from a substance of one density into a substance of a different density such as air and water—I create stories written in the photographic process.”

Photo: Parker Stevenson

She creates all her images in the camera without later manipulation, wanting to stay truthful to her forms and expression. She shoots in swimming pools at night, working with her models through two- to four-hour sessions. “That’s all the body can really take being immersed in water, especially if there is chlorine,” she says. The night darkness gives her a deep black background with the light falling off behind the figures.

Rogers spends weeks or months preparing for her underwater shoots, sketching and making notes on character, color, props, emotions and themes. Working with her models and the unpredictability of the light and water injects some necessary improvisation and surprising confluences. The water allows bodies to defy gravity and fabric to move slowly and fluidly. The result, with opulent colors and watery undulations, is rich and seductive.

 “An Underwater Odyssey,” runs Sept. 4 to Oct. 12. There will be an opening reception at the Honolulu Academy of Arts Academy Art Center Linekona Building, mezzanine gallery on Sept. 4 from 2 to 6 p.m. The gallery is open to the public 7 days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. christyrogers.com.