Working with both underwater and above water elements, there is a considerable color difference.
Generally speaking, color is perceived by the light that is reflected off of and/or absorbed by an object.  Color is interpreted by receptors in our eyes, and varies depending on the light’s wavelength (measured in nanometers, or “nm”).  Light with a wavelength of around 700nm is perceived as red, for example, while a wavelength of around 400 nm would be interpreted as violet.  The colors of the visible light spectrum are red, orange, yellow green, blue, indigo, and violet.
Excellent llustration of color absorption under water from
Due to the way that water absorbs light, there is a loss of perceived color when photographing underwater.  The longer the lights wavelength frequency, the easier it is absorbed by the density of water.  As depth and distance increase underwater, the harder it is for light to travel through.  In addition to getting darker, color too begins to fade, beginning with the red end of the visible light spectrum and followed by orange, green, blue, etc.  (An interesting point: While there is a point that the transmittance of color reaches absolute zero and none can be perceived, you could use something like a red filter and a longer exposure to filter out the blue light and give more time for light towards the red end of the spectrum to be detected.)
When we can simultaneously see light reflecting off an object- in this case, a figure- that is both inside and outside of water, the color shift is unmistakeable.  In every day seeing, we may take this dramatic change in color for granted as we are used to perceiving it that way, but to be able to examine the difference in a still, two dimensional image can be an entirely different experience.  I photographed under water for 14 years and never consciously noticed this remarkable color difference until seeing the images after those initial shoots in color.  I’d spent years integrating the three layers I’d become aware of– above the water, below the water, and the reflection on the surface of the water.  Shooting in B&W, I was always focused on the forms and relationships I was seeing happening within those three layers.  In working with the natural phenomenon of how water absorbs light, I found a fascinating fourth layer. 
Untitled #4-24-08-492

I discovered, quite by accident, that I could exaggerate the disparity of how things appeared above and below the surface of the water.  By lighting the portions of the body that are outside the water with warmer, natural light, while illuminating the submerged portions with a cooler, bluer underwater strobe, the passage from above to below became extraordinarily distinct.  The boundary between above and below water became charged, creating fascinating transitions and bizarre transformations.  [Since the strobe only illuminates what is under the water, there is also a significant exposure difference between what is above and below the surface.  By considerably slowing the shutter speed, the body above the water becomes soft due to the motion blur, while the strobe freezes the body underwater into sharp focus.  This differentiation can give the body outside the water an ethereal, flame-like feel that contrasts with the hardened, cold, stone-like feel of the body underneath, like in this image from 2009:

Untitled #06-10-09-189

In this image, the shutter speed is so slow and the exposure is so long that the warm light above the water manages to illuminate the body just barely below the surface.  You can see how the strobe has sharpened the right side of his face that is submerged in the water, making it both sharp and much bluer in hue.

I find all of this- and the science behind it- just incredible and truly fascinating.  I had no idea these dramatic effects of light and color were happening right before my eyes for so long, and the discovery of them reinvigorated the intrigue I’ve always had for working with this subject matter. 

Photographed on a trip to Bhutan in 1978 

The mask has been used throughout history not only as a way to disguise oneself but a means to project a different persona.  Early cultures and civilizations used masks in sacred ceremonies as a means of channeling spirits and/or gods.  Ancient Greeks introduced masks into theatrical productions to hide the individual and personify their character.  Masks continued to be used in miracle, morality, and mystery plays throughout the Middle Ages, as well as in sacred dramas in Tibet.  Today, party goers at cultural events like Mardi Gras and Carnival become unencumbered by their typical inhibitions behind the guise of their masks, and protesters have made use of the Guy Fawkes mask from the movie “V for Vendetta” as a symbol of opposition and anti-establishment.

Psychologically, we hide behind masks every day; in the way we present ourselves to the world, act in certain situations, and conduct ourselves within a given environment.  We may use masks to hide our deepest, darkest fears, or we may use them to reveal our truer, inner selves.  Oscar Wilde said “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person, give him a mask and he will tell the truth”. 
I’ve always been fascinated by the powerful symbols that masks can be, and the phenomenon of transforming oneself with a mask.  The theme of the mask has been consistent throughout my work from very early on.  From a very early age, I had struggled with identity issues.  I was confronted with the realization that I loved other girls at age 11, at a time when the masses considered homosexuality a perversion, and was wrecked with feelings of being an outsider.  I feared I was a pervert, a freak, and an outcast.  Fearing I was destined to be lonely and unfulfilled for the rest of my life, I vowed to hide my true self and my secret at all costs.  

Then in 1972, as a young student at MICA, I had created this self-portrait:
I had been experimenting in the darkroom by cutting, scratching, and burning negatives.  For this image, I cut the negative in half, put it in the enlarger, and projected it onto photographic paper.  The little Connie inside the split was a cut-out face of me from a different negative that I put directly on the photographic paper during the exposure.  By cutting the negative, I inadvertently cut the symbol of my facade or public mask in half to reveal the little Connie that had been stored away.

It wasn’t my intention to make an image that made a revealing statement about myself or my secrets, I was simply playing and experimenting.  It took me years to even grasp the full significance of what this image meant.  Although it was technically crude, this was the first time that I used the symbol of a mask.  Throughout the course of my work, the archetypal symbolism of masks have re-emerged again and again, sometimes in the water:

But more often, and more reminiscent of the early cut negative self-portrait, in the mirrors:

I’ve been thinking about this recently because one of the latest images shot in the mirrors has a very strong feeling of a figure removing a mask:

I love the gesture in this image- the way she seems to be holding the mask as if just revealing her confident and clear self beneath.  The mask is almost ephemeral, even though she clearly has a grasp on it, and I love how it has the feeling of a full face masquerade type mask.  There’s a sort of twisted elegance about her figure, and the way she has exposed her true self feels very natural, despite the overall bizarre quality of the image.

Whenever the appearance of masks have come up in my work,  it is always in the form of layers, both visually and symbolically.  I’ve often interpreted them as conveying psychological layers, representing conscious and unconscious elements, revealing deeper levels of understanding and awareness.  Carl Jung said that “the persona [mask] is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is”.  In many of these images, I see layers of the psyche being either exposed or hidden, the persona being projected or revealed through the presence or removal of the mask.  Continuing to work intuitively, it is always exciting to see common threads like this resurface in my work throughout the years… 

After my lecture and exhibit in Norway for the Nordic Light International Festival of Photography, I was approached by a Swedish photography publication called FOTO.  My work was very well received at the festival, and the magazine wanted to highlight my work with a portfolio spread and article to be featured in the October 2013 issue.  I just received a copy of the issue in the mail recently, and it looks fantastic:

The reproductions in the article are not only extensive, but the quality is outstanding.  I was really impressed with how well both the black & white and color images printed.

The piece is called “Connie Imboden: Reflections of Man”, and opens with one of the more startling and daring images from my portfolio.  It also shows a picture of me in front of the pool, with an arrow pointing to “Den svartmålade poolen” (“The black-painted pool”):
The text reads: 
“Det finns en röd tråd i Connie Imbodens arbete.  Ett tema som föddes ur en stark rädsla för vatten i kombination med en fascination för människokroppen. Nu är rädslan försvunnen.  Och motivvärlden lever vidare.  Text och porträttfoto: Catarina Åström”
(There is a common thread in Connie Imboden’s work. One theme that was born from a strong fear of water, combined with a fascination for the human body. Now the fear is gone. And the design world lives on. Text and portrait photoCatarina Åström)

The quote above the last page featuring Sainthood reads:  “Jag tror verkligen att fotografin räddade mitt liv.  Eller åtminstone gjorde att jag hittade något som hjälpte mig emotionellt.”
(I truly believe that photography saved my life. Or at least that I found something that helped me emotionally.”)
Big thanks to the folks at FOTO, I’m honored to be included in your magazine!

On a recent trip to Greece, I was astounded by just how much we are still influenced by ancient Greek culture. I knew that we had borrowed a great deal from this early civilization, but I was unaware of the scope of their impact nearly 3,000 years later.  Not only does our system of government and much of our language originate from that period, but so much of our thinking comes from then as well.  The ingenuity of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle permeates our society even today.
What was most intriguing, however, was the opportunity to explore the birthplace of so many of my favorite ancient myths.  Echoes of mythology have been a recurring theme in my work from the very beginning.  Ever since a fellow graduate student revealed the resemblance of Dead Silences to the ancient god Janus, I became very interested in mythology and the role of myth in psychology. 

In her book The Case for God, Karen Armstrong writes that the Greeks recognized two distinctive characteristics of thought, referring to them as “mythos” and “logos”.  While “logos” dealt with analytical, practical, and functional knowledge, “mythos” was the psyche’s mechanism for finding meaning in life’s struggles.  Armstrong states that “in the past, myth was not self-indulgent fantasy; rather, like “logos”, it helped people to live effectively in our confusing world, though in a different way”.  Myths focused on the difficult and challenging aspects of life that logos could not account for, and so were just as important to the human psyche.  “They were designed to help people negotiate the obscure regions of the psyche, which are difficult to access but which profoundly influence our thought and behavior”, says Armstrong, referring to myth as a primitive form of psychology.
For myth to be effective, however, it had to correspond to reality.  In order to reveal and understand universal truths about our humanity, it had to be applicable to the world around us.  Today, after centuries of industrial revolution and scientific progression, we tend to value the more pragmatic “logos” over mythos.   Mythos has been separated from our understanding of the world and how we live in it.  We believe in reason and see myth as just “stories”, often overlooking their meaning.  Even the word “myth” itself has become synonymous with “lie”, and is often used to indicate falsehood.  But when you look at ancient Greek culture, their history is interwoven with their mythology.  Mythos and logos were different sides of the same coin- essentially different thought processes but equally important and valuable.  
I’ve always been fascinated by this notion, and so it was wonderful to have a guide who could present historical facts with stories of Greek mythology.  Eva had a way of connecting the mythological stories of a site with the historical facts and reality of it that reflected the link between mythos and logos.  Not only did it elucidate the ancient ruins we visited, but it gave us a sense of how the people of the time thought, how they saw the world and interacted with it.  

At one point, we were sitting on these giant stones on the path to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.  Eva explained the importance of the rich landscape, illustrating its role in ancient Greek mythology.  She pointed out a boulder and suggested that perhaps this was the rock that spilled from the gut of Kronos after Zeus cut open his stomach to free his devoured siblings.  She also explained how the people would prepare themselves for visiting the temple, reflecting on the sculpture that lined the path to it and how they would essentially prime themselves psychologically for the cryptic messages of the oracle.  There was such a richness in Eva’s presentations and explanations of the history and myth , it was almost as if we were touring the Greek psyche in addition to the beautiful landscape.  

Back in the Spring of 2012, I was honored to be featured in an Iranian Magazine called HASTMAG.   Dedicated to the field of photography, this small but beautifully done magazine promotes artists work and shares discussions with them through their website,  

The amount of photographs they featured was staggering, covering pages 46-83, and highlighted both new color work and early black and white images.  The quality is excellent, and the interface is very nice.  

There are multiple options for viewing the magazine:
You can also check out their archives by going here:

2013 has proven to be a very busy year. With so many workshops and a lot of traveling, I haven’t had many opportunities to get into a regular shooting schedule.  There’s pro’s and con’s to this, but one advantage is feeling the freedom to get in the studio and just play.  Without any concrete directions or thoughts on where to begin, it really opens up the possibility to make new discoveries and wild breakthroughs.

This image is from a recent shoot where we were really starting from scratch, and where I really felt like I could take a lot of risks and see what developed.  The whole shoot was just fantastic, but I have to say I LOVE this image!

I feel like this image is really emotionally charged.  The figure here is really suffering, he’s clearly in agony and we’re witnessing it.  It’s a very active quality of pain, and very striking.  There’s a heroic quality to his pain, maybe something like martyrdom?

The red portions of the figure read to me as very raw, like recent wounds, while the dark area in his chest feels like an old wound of some sort.  The lighting and the colors in the shoulder and arm gie the impression of exposed tendons.  The fist coming through the chest could be something punching out, something reaching out from within or bursting through, but I also don’t always see it a fist.  Perhaps it is an exposed organ, maybe the heart?

There is something about the overall quality of agony here that makes the lines around the wrist and upper arm appear to be chains of some sort.  It’s almost as if he is bound in a dark chamber somewhere.  Or maybe this is an internal struggle- a psychic battle in some dark corner of the mind- and representative of something Karen Armstrong referred to as the labyrinth of the mind….

All that said, I find the face here just INCREDIBLE.  There is subtle but clear smears of red over his eyes, and to me it gives an immediate feeling of blindness.  Perhaps he is nearly blind, or blinded by blood.  Seeing his blindness adds to the overall tragedy of the suffering he is experiencing, bound and body falling apart…

So much of the color work I’ve done shooting with the mirrors has had classical religious qualities to them, specifically reminding me of Christian iconography.  This image, however, goes back to a more mythological feeling for me.  Prometheus, who is credited with giving man the gift of fire, was punished for doing so by being bound to a rock where every day an eagle would tear out and feed on his liver, only to have it grow back to be eaten again, day after day.  The bound quality of the figure in this image, the body falling apart, the raw flesh, the clear agony and obvious suffering, even the fist reading as an exposed organ, all remind me of the torture of Prometheus.

This is a well known sculpture of Prometheus by Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, housed at the Louvre in France:

As the fall season begins and I work on getting back to a regular shooting schedule, I’m looking forward to posting more images here and on the website, and making more unexpected and exciting connections like this one!


Last week ended another great week at the Maine Media Workshops.  As always, this was my favorite week of teaching throughout the year.  Maine is beautiful, the weather is gorgeous this time of year, the lobster is delicious, and the students the workshop attracts are always wonderful.

Our class!

This year, my class comprised of six motivated and responsive students who pushed me to push them to a new level, which I find brings out the best in me as a teacher.  We had very engaging and challenging discussions about originality, authentic seeing, and how to photograph such a popular and controversial subject as the human body.  We talked about the multitude of vulnerabilities for both the model and the photographer, and how to look beyond the “concept” of the figure to see it in a new way.  My students responded very quickly to the assignments, producing work that was outstanding and it was nothing short of impressive to see how far everyone had progressed in just one week.

Every year at Maine Media, the week ends with a closing celebration featuring the best videos and slides of the work all of the classes produced.  I was so proud and delighted with my students work, and I’m happy to share some of the work featured in the Friday slide show here:

Mark Harris
Mark Harris
Amber Laurent
Amber Laurent
Charlie Lemay
Charlie Lemay
Charlie Lemay
Enrique Monasterio
Enrique Monasterio
Ruth Steinberg
Ruth Steinberg
Harry Umen
Harry Umen

This year was the 40th anniversary of the Maine Media Workshops, reminding me that I’d been there for the 20th and 30th as well.  Through all these years I look forward to this workshop with excitement and anticipation, and I can’t wait to see what the 50th anniversary will bring!

Thanks to the folks at MMW for all the beautiful memories and for keeping me around year after year, and a very special thank you to my class!  You were all truly wonderful to work with and I can’t wait to see more of your work in the future!

Back in December I wrote about being included in the Nordic Light International Festival of Photography in Kristiansund, Norway.  The festival was April 22 – 27th, and was SUCH A BLAST!  I’ll say this for Norwegians- they sure do know how to party!

Leaving Baltimore to go to Norway in April was an interesting challenge.  Just as the weather was warming up here, the temps in Norway were topping out in the 50’s.  Although you wouldn’t know it from the photo of Kristiansund above, there was also occasional rain, sleet, and snow to boot. We had come prepared, packing winter coats and cold weather gear, but arrived to find that our suitcases had (of course) not made it.

Patricia and I with Marian, decked out in our Nordic winter gear!

Fortunately, our host Marianne Andersen was prepared, and was so gracious to provide us with coats, scarves, warm socks and shoes.  We were promptly taken care of, and felt so warm and welcome despite the chilly weather.

The festival featured a slew of excellent and talented photographers, including Alex Webb, Chris Rainier, Steve McCurryLeysis QuesadaNelson Ramirez De Arellano, and Pedro Abascal.  It was exciting to meet so many amazing photographers from around the world and hear them talk about their work and processes.  It made for a truly invigorating and inspiring atmosphere.  The festival included 15 impressive exhibitions, great panel discussions, and even photography trivia at night in the local bar!

My visit to the festival included a presentation where I had the opportunity to discuss my work and the creative process, and it could not have been more well received.  Everyone seemed to really respond to my images, and I was flattered to have the talk end with a standing ovation!

In addition to the wonderful experience we had at the festival, the Norwegian landscape was breathtaking.  Norway is known for it’s beautiful fjords– long, deep inlets of the sea formed by glacial activity between high cliffs.  We managed to take a trip outside of Kristiansund to see some and they were stunning.  The water there is an amazing shade of blue and the Norwegian countryside was simply gorgeous.

The trip to Norway was one I will never forget.  I have had a number of fortunate opportunities to travel to various workshops in the past year or so, and it has been a real privilege being able to meet so many people from around the world who share a passion for photography.  Again and again I have been amazed at the power visual language has to transcend cultural differences.  The potential for connecting to other human beings on real, deep, and meaningful levels through the medium of photography is astounding, and never ceases to astound me.  With more workshops just around the corner, I can hardly wait to see what lies ahead… 

Last week, I had the pleasure of teaching a three day workshop for the Union of Arab Photographers in Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates.  The request from the UAP came up quickly and was unplanned, but I jumped at the opportunity to travel and teach in the Middle East.  Having seen the Lynda course I recently published with Ben Long, they were interested in hosting a class on composition. 

This was such an exciting trip and I found it fascinating to be in a culture so different from my own but sharing the same passion for photography.  I found the UAE to be very enthusiastic about photography, to really value communication, and felt like it was a deeply appreciated medium.  
All of the people I met with were incredibly warm, welcoming, and hospitable.  The students I worked with were extraordinary- all were very enthusiastic, open, and eager to learn.  Photography is such an important language, one that transcends cultural differences and communicates in rich, profound ways.  It was a wonderful experience and I hope I have the opportunity to visit again some day!
I’m hoping to receive some samples of students work to post here within the next couple weeks…
Our class!