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Arts & Culture Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 - 1:45:37 AM

Resident underwater photographer, Elena Kalis to exhibit in California
Dec 1, 2014 - 3:14:13 PM

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Elena Kalis and an image of her daughter © 2014 Elena Kalis

World renown underwater photographer and resident of The Bahamas, Elena Kalis will be presenting her first exhibition of works in California this coming weekend in Santa Monica at 2525 Michigan Ave, Unit A7.  The opening reception is on Saturday, December 6, 2014, from  7-9 pm.

Aside from her website, ElenaKalisPhoto.com, Kalis is extremely active on most social media platforms, and her photos garner tens of thousands of likes. Her instagram presently has 411,000 followers. Her images have adorned book covers and she's been written up in too many magazines to list here. Kalis has also been teaching her techniques at international photography conferences.

She's definitely an ambassador for The Bahamas, as her photography is full of the beauty surrounding her, but her work underwater is what's she's become most known for. Her subject is most often her daughter, who  in her own right has become quite famous as "Bahamas Girl" on social media.

“I think people feel a connection to the water that’s intuitive and deep and not necessarily about art. It’s more of a living thing.” - Elena Kalis

The following is written by Duncan Miller Gallery, who is hosting her in California:

Elena Kalis’ relatively recent foray into photography -- an ongoing series of underwater portraits of her daughter that has become a bona fide internet sensation -- is by turns haunting, mysterious, exuberant, painterly, pensive, jovial, surreal, familiar, and majestic -- but always flat-out gorgeous. These unapologetically beautiful images have captured the global imagination -- which Kalis finds both surprising and strange but takes in stride. On the occasion of her first gallery exhibition, Shana Nys Dambrot caught up with the artist at her home in the Bahamas to discuss life, nature, Instagram and archetype.

Q: How did you come to live in the Bahamas, and how long have you been there? Did your artistry prompt you to seek out a natural, remote place; or is it more that the work grew out of the experience?

A: I didn’t plan any of this! I was mostly painting, and when we moved here 17 years ago, that’s what I started to do. I made some paintings -- not landscapes per se, but certainly related to the qualities of the location. In the past six or seven years, I have started playing with the camera. There’s not much to photograph above the water, so I went under -- and I liked what I saw! But that’s still how I make these images -- like they were paintings -- using color, light, and pattern.

Q: How did the idea of merging the marine environment with portraits of your daughter come about? Do you think you’d be shooting the water pictures without a person; and would you be photographing your daughter like this if you lived in a city or suburb?

A: If I were in a city, I wouldn’t be on the portraits; and if I didn’t have my daughter, I’m not sure I’d be doing the water shots -- it’s really about the merging of those things. It all grew directly out of the experience of being here. I was never that interested in landscape as a genre; and by working with my daughter it’s easier to access the expression of emotional connection which shows in the images. I’ve used models and taken requests for portraits, but it’s never quite the same.

Q: Your work includes a range of subseries -- from funny, witty ones with toys or games; to almost abstract ones with microbubbles and deep shadows; to ones that split the composition between underwater and the upper world of land and air; to more poetic, mysterious ones… Are these series ongoing, or do you complete them and move on?

A: I never finish a series, they are all always ongoing. Well, Alice in Wonderland sort of ended. It went viral in Asia and Europe; that was the “overnight sensation” moment. It was surprising, and I started getting so much attention and I just never had the chance to go back to it. Anyway, I make images, not series. Putting them into categories happens later and is mostly for the convenience of organizing a website. I don’t set out with a complete image in mind, and besides water is hard to control and always surprising, so there’s no point in that really. I get home and upload the card we see what I got!

Q: To what degree is your daughter a collaborator in the work? Has she become more involved over time? How are you dealing with her transition from childhood to adolescence and womanhood? And is she aware of her social media stardom?

A: As far as her growing up in front of the camera, coming to have her own ideas, right now she likes the modeling and I like the artsiness [laughs] -- so now we always have to do both. But you know, the Neverland series was about beautiful autumn on an enchanted island of never getting older… Her aging, adolescence, it’s interesting as long as she’s into it. She’s starting to become aware of the social media phenomenon now. But really I think she’ll only truly appreciate all of this later, maybe when she has her own kids.

Q: You’ve said both of your children could swim before they could walk, and of course this is your home and your connection to the environment is familiar. But how do you prepare for the dangers this process presents in the open sea?

A: She has no fear, but sometimes I’m scared for her. The ocean is unforgiving. Once there were a bunch of twisters around us. If you’re going to be diving with sharks, you must make sure there’s no blood or bits of fish chum or whatever in the water. But honestly the animals aren’t too interested in us. Stingrays unnerve people because of Steve Irwin but that sort of thing never really happens, not to where you need to worry if you’re careful. People freaked out though when they saw those! There’s a lot to think about while you’re under the sea -- wildlife, weather, breathing. It’s a totally different quality of movement. If you can relax, there’s nothing more graceful. The pictures seem effortless but it’s harder than it looks, especially in a ball gown!

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