Scots free-diving photographer’s images show ‘alien life’ in seas

The other-worldly “creatures” immortalised in Scottish free-diver and photographer Janeanne Gilchrist’s dramatic underwater artworks could have come straight off the set of a sci-fi movie.

Tangled ropes, plastic bags, discarded fishing gear, even an old souwester feature.

The other-worldly “creatures” immortalised in Scottish free-diver and photographer Janeanne Gilchrist’s dramatic underwater artworks could have come straight off the set of a sci-fi movie.

They are simultaneously both beautiful and menacing.

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But perhaps the most disturbing things about these “aliens” is that they’re very much real – if not actually alive – and lurking in the seas around Scotland.

The otherworldly ‘creatures’ have been immortalised in Scottish free-diver and photographer Janeanne Gilchrist’s dramatic underwater artworks

The subjects are all items of man-made marine litter. Tangled ropes, plastic bags, discarded fishing gear, even an old sou’wester.

And they feature in a new exhibition by the Edinburgh-based artist, who has been capturing the secrets of Scotland’s aquatic world since she began free-diving – without breathing equipment – 17 years ago.

“I have always had a fascination with the sea,” she said. “I love to be beside it, in it, on top or under it. I find it therapeutic – salt water washes away the humdrum of daily life and it boosts my creativity.

“As a child I always wanted to be an explorer and dreamt about galaxies far away.

“Now I have discovered my galaxy right on my doorstep – floating in a moving current is the closest you can get to flying in outer space, and this makes part of my work.”

Gilchrist dives with her partner Will Beeslaar, exploring all around the Scottish coastline from St Abb’s to the Moray Firth, Dunnet Bay and the Isle of Skye.

To survive the chilly waters she wears a 7mm thick rubber suit, gloves and socks, which allow her to stay in the sea for up to four hours.

Unencumbered by scuba oxygen tanks, her only equipment is a weight belt, a snorkel, a low-profile mask, flippers and a marker buoy for safety – and of course her camera, enclosed in a waterproof casing.

She dives down to 15m deep, holding her breath for as much as two minutes at a time while she gets the shots she wants.

Gilchrist’s portfolio is diverse and includes stunning images of all sorts of sealife.

But in recent years she has become increasingly concerned about the levels of rubbish polluting the marine environment and felt moved to turn her creative attention to the crisis.

“I wanted to document the results of our bad management of all our waste, but especially the plastic waste in our seas, allowing it to harm fragile ocean ecosystems,” she said. “In today’s world we are saturated by information and imagery, and I wanted to engage people about this ecological disaster without preaching.

“People have become quite numb to photos of piles of waste. These images are created to last longer. I want people to have these discussions.

“I want to raise awareness of what is down there – the natural and the unnatural.”

Gilchrist, who first learned to dive in Egypt, admits that exploring Scotland’s dark, seaweedy waters was daunting at first. But now she just can’t get enough.

“It never leaves, that flurry of excitement just before you stick your head under the water,” she said. “Every time it’s different. You never have the same light, the same waves, the same things washed up, or the same flora and fauna. To me the movement of the sea reflects the ebb and flow of our own lives, and that’s what I want to capture in my photographs.”

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