Artist Elena Kalis - Adventures in Waterland
Bahamian photographer, Elena Kalis, makes waves with her whimsical images.
Words by Kyle Fulton.
Luminous in the inky abyss, the aqueous visage of a modern-day mermaid radiates serenely from the void; reminiscent of Degas – bowed at the waist and with face obscured, a young ballerina melts into her reflection; sinking down into a new, fantastical underwater world, Alice’s perplexing adventures begin. At first glance, the photographs baffle with their whimsical, otherworldly essence, teasing viewers to wonder if they, too, have fallen down the rabbit hole. Masterfully blending reality with fantasy, they express an exotic duality to reveal the enchanting genius of Elena Kalis’s work.
Down the Rabbit Hole (Alice in Waterland series, 2009-2011), digital photography.
A visual artist, fairly new to the world of experimental photography, Kalis began shooting in 2006, she has wasted no time making her mark in the rarefied world of conceptual underwater photography. Intrigued and inspired by how different things appear in water, Kalis began experimenting and, as she says by way of explanation, “What began as a hobby has become a full-blown obsession.”
Fancy Meeting You Here (2011), digital photography.
Born and raised in Moscow, and with training in the Fine Arts, Kalis, serendipitously moved to the Berry Islands, a cluster of thirty cays, northwest of Nassau, The Bahamas, with her husband fourteen years ago. Unbeknownst to her, the secluded island would inspire her second act as an artist, trading brush for camera. As she explains: “Apart from the nice weather and clean water, this is a very quiet place with not many people, but with a pace of life I like.” Yet, it was here, in this charming, peaceful haven with its ever-inviting water and secluded beaches that she found inspiration, making nature both her studio and medium.
Curiosity (2012), digital photography.
“I started taking photographs under water because it’s very clean and things look so different, weightless and with a dreamlike quality,” she contends. Mixing unpredictable elements into a natural context, she plays with perception, provoking the viewer with images that defy the natural world. It is in this fantastical playground that she subverts reality drawing the viewer in with playful images evocative of another world. Surreal and ephemeral, she captures moments full of beauty and insight that are filled with action yet radiate a quiet calm. Paradoxically contemporary, her romantic, dreamy images haunt with their original, beguiling beauty.
Falling Angel (2011), digital photography.
Shooting near the surface, Kalis mostly relies on natural light, although on occasion she has been known to use sola lights and reflectors. Using a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, all images are post-processed to varying degrees dependent upon the image. Not one to choose the path of least resistance, Kalis prefers working in the ocean to the pool, despite the additional planning it requires and challenges it presents, finding that the ever-changing vagaries of the ocean possess an enthralling profundity evident in the final result.
Underwater Pet (2011), digital photography.
In a beautiful twist of fate, Kalis discovered her children to be invaluable models. Able to maintain a relaxed countenance whilst underwater – a “gift”, she posits, with which one must be born – she cherishes having simultaneously documented her artistic progress alongside their development. Fusing the unpredictability of children with the energetic ebb and flow of the ocean realm, each image captures a rare dynamic spontaneity, where magic is given free rein to work.
Atlantis (2008), digital photography.
It is an obsessive dedication to her craft, an openness to caprice and fascination with whimsicality, that have given Kalis wings to create the exquisite images that belie the genius behind her ‘looking glass’ lens. Like Alice, Kalis jumps into the ethereal depths of discovery feet first. Without imposing her will, she allows the unexplored to lead her, chasing new ideas down her own unique ‘rabbit hole’ to embark on her own adventures in waterland.
Alice with Flamingo (2009), digital photography.
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