Knowing that light travels slower in water than air is the first step toward understanding the magic behind the luminous photography of Christy Lee Rogers. Rogers is a photographer and filmmaker from the island of Oahu, Hawaii. In her hands the play of light, water, color, movement and optics combine in elegant underwater photographs. Her new series, Odyssey, explores the quiet battle between spirit and flesh, depicting inner adventures and couplings of mythological figures drenched in color and frozen in time. Rogers’ methods have long been as mysterious as her photography, but for the first time she is willing to share them here.
Rogers has been experimenting and pursuing this process for over seven years. All of her images are created in camera and not by the use of post-production manipulation. Instead she relies on the elegant physics of water and light to aid in the creation of her other- worldly images, employing the light deviation between a body of water and the air above it. With refraction as the foundation for her work, Rogers has succeeded in crafting unique and mysterious images. This mechanism, which she has explored tirelessly, is deceptively simple: light moves more quickly through air than water.
Light bends when it passes from a substance of one density into a substance of a different density—this is called refraction. Rainbows are caused by refraction and reflection of the sun’s rays in drops of rain. Have you ever tried swimming down to the bottom of a pool to retrieve something and realized that it was not where it appeared to be from above? What you’re experiencing is refraction.
Rogers utilizes this phenomenon of light as it passes from the air, which has a lower optical density, into the water, with a higher optical density. In air light travels at about 186,000 miles per second, but in water light travels only about 140,000 miles per second. She then causes subtle motions in the layers of the water or with her subject to create her effect. There is a fine line between disaster and perfection. If used correctly these effects can produce fantastic optical illusions: intensification of colors, blurring, blending and a painting-like final image. “I feel like a magician, except I’m not trying to trick or fool people but to open their minds to something that’s not always visible to the eye.” The combination of body and wind movement increases the volatility of an already fragile environment. Rogers accounts for this chaos and captures it in these moving, striking images.