Nelson photographer Jose Cano turns models into mermaids

by Tim Cuff / 24 December, 2017

Underwater World

As Jose Cano pondered the difficulties of photographing fleet-footed dancers in his studio, he had an inspired idea. How would it be to shoot them underwater? “One is always limited by gravity and time trying to catch that moment,” he says.

The Spanish-born artist, who’s lived in Nelson since 2008, asked a local engineer to build a small test tank he could fill with water. “He didn’t understand until I said, ‘It’s to put mermaids in!’”

In March, less than a year after that first splash of inspiration, Cano opened a permanent 7m by 4m subterranean studio beneath a new barn on his rural property on the outskirts of town. He took to the tank for the first time to shoot a model wearing a heavy stainless-steel dress made for the World of WearableArt show. “I had to be down [at the bottom of the tank] all the time, pushing her up.”

Spanish-born artist Jose Cano in his underwater photography tank, during a shoot with model Alesha Pyers.

When you’re working underwater, you never know what’s going to happen, says Cano, whose camera is protected by a waterproof housing. “You are limited in how you can move, and your model can only go down and pose at three metres for maybe 30 seconds. Fabric can go one way, hair the other… If you can catch that, it’s pure serendipity.”

The tank is filled with rainwater from the roof, which is then fed through three levels of filtration and warmed to a tropical 28°. After a six-hour shoot, the photographer, his model and his helper, Emma Porteous, are all physically drained. “I will lose a kilo. Very often after a shoot we go directly to the pizzeria!” But the challenges of shooting underwater have made him fall in love with photography all over again.

“People don’t know if they can sink and be comfortable in the water,” says Cano, who has an exhibition of work, Aqua Ingravitas, at Nelson’s Parker Gallery until November 3. “We had a dive master who couldn’t sink, and wearing a dress she panicked. What I hear most from the models is, ‘I didn’t know it would be so hard.’” 

This was published in the November 2017 issue of North & South.

 

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