delve underwater with photographer claudia legge

Meet Claudia Legge the London-based photographer who spends most of her time delving into underwater worlds to seek out beautiful sea-maidens.

Jan 14 2015, 10:05am

Down where they swim, down where they float, down where they have no use for a boat; floatin' free - wish we could be part of the mer-world. From taking pictures in her bath to snapping Indian elephants in deep waters, Claudia's work never fails to amaze. A member of World Wide Women, the all-girl art collective in Camden, Claudia's work is currently on show at the Cob gallery, as part of an exhibition called Ritual. On top of music videos and editorials galore, Claudia has also lent her creative skills to the safe sex initiative NaturalCycles, whose latest campaign, Be Yourself, brings together a group of talented young female artists from all around London, to explore the all-powerful notion of unconditional love. We catch up with Claudia to talk about where life is better, down where it's wetter, under the sea.

When did you first get into photography?
I first started taking photography seriously when I was about 17, I was always conducting photo shoots with my friends, making them dress up and putting them in obscure places so I could take their picture. I never studied photography, but at university I was photo editor of the student newspaper so that gave me a variety of interesting subject matters to photograph.

Why photography specifically?
I have always had an interest in photography and it always seemed to come fairly naturally to me. Photography gave me a purpose. It let me hide behind my camera, but often it got me into places, and to see things I would never normally go and see or spend time looking at. For instance photographing an EDL rally. Travelling takes on a whole different aspect when you are looking at things from the point of view of composing a picture.

What made you first start photographing underwater?
I first got into photographing underwater because I wanted the challenge. I had an upcoming exhibition with World Wide Woman in Paris, which I had to produce a new series for. I wanted to use a medium that was unusual so I decided I would experiment with underwater. After my first shoot, I've never looked back. Everything about the process of an underwater shoot suits my personality and my way of working.

What do you think it is about water that captivates us?
Water is mysterious. It allows us to experience weightlessness. Being underwater is like being in an imaginary world, the world of fish. The light is different there, it dapples and ripples and that's what I love about photographing underwater. There are elements you can't control, and the models can express their bodies free from gravity. The force of water is also captivating. People can get hypnotised watching waves in the ocean. No wave is ever the same, and the scale and grandeur of the ocean scares us and fascinates us.

What does water symbolise to you?
Freedom and escape. It relaxes me. I try my hardest to be near it as much as possible which is why I decided to live on a boat on the canal. It's an escape from London life. I can hear the water when I go to sleep and when I wake up, and I can see it when I make my cup of tea in the morning. It also puts everything into perspective for me; I get a real sense of the sublime. Water makes me realize how insignificant and small I am in comparison to the universe and in that sense it humbles me. I think anything that brings you back to the bigger picture is healthy, and for me it's water.

Why do you think that throughout history water has always been associated with women?
I didn't actually know but it makes sense to me. Water is essential for life to grow and in that sense it is associated with fertility and birth. You could also look at the associations with the tides and a woman's cycle. The moon controls the tides and for many centuries people associated similar forces with the female cycle. We are 90% water and perhaps that has something to do with it, but water has always seemed to me to be a more feminine element unlike fire, which is more masculine. 

How did you first get involved with The World Wide Women collective?
Anoushka Beckwith came across my work two years ago and asked me to be one of the first members of the collective. When I learnt what World Wide Women was and what it stands for, I said yes immediately. Anoushka is doing an amazing thing, promoting and supporting young female photographers and artists.

What does it mean to be a part of it?
To be in a collective with such talented artists only makes me more determined to keep producing and improving my work. It's very inspiring. WWW is a creative, progressive community, showcasing the creative works of a diverse group of female photographers and artists around the world. It has been set up with the purpose of exhibiting, marketing and selling artwork.

Does being a woman affect your work as an artist? Should it?
It affects my whole perspective on the world so in that sense yes. I photograph mostly women, so I imagine that the way I look at the female form is different from how a man might look at it. I think many people would be able to tell that my photographs are taken by a woman, and when I wonder what makes that the case, I guess it has something to do with the softness of light and less harsh handling of the form, or perhaps the romance of the image. I'm also aware that the industry leaders are mostly men and there aren't as many women in assisting roles either. That can be intimidating when trying to make a name for yourself but then it can also work to my advantage.

What is the Be Yourself campaign and how did you become involved with it?
Be Yourself is a humorous four-part webisode series that aims to capture the meaning of unconditional love and the importance of feeling comfortable in your own skin, no matter how unflattering a situation can be. I was told about NaturalCycles, by my friend, Amelia Hazlerigg, who was directing, filming and writing the campaign.

What's next for you?
I have two upcoming exhibitions, one solo show in London this May and another one in New York in June (TBC) at the Kasher | Potamkin gallery. I'm making underwater music videos, which I'm very excited about and I currently have a picture being exhibited at the London Zoo, which is soon to move to Whipsnade Zoo.



Text Tish Weinstock