Storytelling of Water: About Photography, Ethnography, and Feminist Ecologies, is a photobook forthcoming at Immaterial Book.
The book project results from a series of photographs I developed in 2022, “Cosmic Water”, exploring some of the commonalities between underwater and outer space environments. Both outer space and the undersea have been shaped, through worldwide history, by similar representations, fantasies, and colonial frameworks related to territoriality, Otherness, and resources utilization as part of the very notion of exploration. Both subaquatic and outer space experiences, including how these experiences are put into words and images, are thus historically situated and deeply culturally grounded.
“Cosmic Waters” is a meditative and reflexive wandering in the depths of the Mediterranean sea. The series investigates the eeriness of submarine weightlessness and bodies’ reliance on technologies in undefined landscapes: artifacts and personae appear altered, trunked, disincarnated, blinded or paroxysmally illuminated until there is no possible way to identify them. In the darkness of sea bottoms, where light doesn’t always come through, cardinal orientation becomes nothing more than a fragile cultural, rationalist construction.
However, Storytelling of Water goes beyond this photo series. It’s an intimate narrative of experiencing trauma, being an ethnographer fond of confronting empirical realities, and experimenting with different forms and techniques of storytelling to navigate the in-betweens, the coexistent multiplicities, and the pervasiveness of non-conformist scholarship.
Based on my commercial diver training, largely grounded in “hydrofeminist” phenomenology, and calling on Indigenous cosmologies, the book includes three series of photographs (including one experimenting with thermal imagery), drawings, poetry, and fieldwork notes.
It’s an ode to weirdness and fluids of all kinds – but in a (hopefully) very coherent way.
Table of Content of Storytelling of Water
Prologue: Plastic Lives
The plasticity of biological organisms is their ability to adapt and change when facing a new way of life. This prologue is about developing an approach to social life grounded in a diversifying range of practices (including underwater works). It proposes a dialogue of the fieldwork methodology (especially its process of embodiment in the field) inherited from my scholarly career in space studies with experimental photography and other imagery techniques, for the benefit of critical thinking.
1. Flowing Bodies
After an introductory narrative explaining how I came to become a professional diver in the prologue, while further developing underwater photography, this part emphasizes the articulation of gender dynamics and ecological damage. It especially uses the concept of “hydrofeminism”, developed by the phenomenologist Astrida Neimanis as a metaphor of male exploitation over bodies inspired by the fluid and complex form of life that is water. This part pursues reflections introduced in the prologue regarding embodiment, from its use in ethnography to an ecofeminist standpoint. The photo series featured here increasingly installs an uncertainty about what is pictured on the photograph: the underwater environment appears as an enigmatic, fantasized, and shadowy world, from which emerges a visual dialogue between the oceans and outer space.
This part continues the Feminist approach developed with hydrofeminism and embodiment, to further engage with how female bodies are shaped according to a certain relationship to technologies, artifacts (e.g., diving equipment), and prejudices in activities like diving (and, indirectly, spaceflight). It unveils an ecofeminist view on commercial diving as an intervention on nature, and links this intervention to Western modernity’s cosmology. The photo series included here is characterized by color inversion.
3. Colonial Scapes
Building on the previous section, this last part revisits the cultural politics of the underseas, and discusses ways to navigate these politics through imagery techniques. It introduces the method of “thermography”, consisting in photographing underwater flora and fauna with thermal cameras to emphasize the resistance of nature’s heat and rough form of life to human-made technologies.
After epitomizing the separation of human beings and the elements with the cosmos, as introduced in the previous section, the epilogue opens up a reflection around the notions of exile and resilience through the development of creative knowledge methodologies.