From Public to Private: Water, Art and Environment

Last year, one of my goals was to make time for some underwater photography projects. My plan was to visit my neighborhood pool with one of my dear friends — and favorite models! — and just play around with her movements underwater. I longed to capture the feelings of fluidity and freedom created from both swimming and dancing.

Nonetheless, these shoots never had a chance to come to life: a foot injury held me back during our original shoot time, and shortly afterward I set off to for what turned out to be a year-long adventure of travel. As my time on the road meets with some temporary respite, I see myself preparing to return to my home-base of Chiang Mai, Thailand, with thoughts of underwater creativity dancing in my head.

My friend Sachie moves fluidly on land, expressing feelings of freedom. Just imagine what magic might happen underwater!

Water and creativity: an explosive combination

The reason I’m so moved by underwater photography is the element of emotion that exists within 2-D images of underwater worlds, frozen in time. Ethereal and enigmatic, images made underwater are unlike those made on land: they demonstrate another realm of our universe that we are not able to survive in (without special equipment) for longer than several minutes without coming up for air.

Even in our inhabitable realm of the technological, the magical combination of water and art is evident. A quick perusal of Pinterest, the current queen of image-based social media sites, will show scads of water-based imagery. We are naturally inspired by viewing water because it resonates with our emotional truths and aspirations. Whenever I do have the opportunity to photograph my friend underwater, I’ll be aiming to capture feelings of possibility, fluidity, and freedom. Though, as with most deeper emotional states, words cannot adequately convey my intentions.

I’ve tried to capture feelings of fluidity on land, but the images never have the ethereal quality that water can create.

Due to the similarities between water and creativity in their flowing, flexible natures, it’s not surprising that the pair connect effortlessly through human creations. Exploring our world through creative expression will, at some point, always naturally lead us back to water.

And photography is merely one of myriad possibilities when it comes to combining water and art. Regardless of their respective purposes, settings, and audiences, the designs and projects I’m most drawn to almost always have a few of these shared values: environmental mindfulness, innovation, and inspired creativity.

The Silent Evolution

One artist whose work is truly otherworldly is Jason deCaires Taylor, an eco sculptor and diving enthusiast.  His phenomenal piece, The Silent Evolution, focuses on issues that concern most eco artists – the ongoing, human-initiated destruction of our oceans and seas, and the effects of nature on man-made creations over time.

Taylor’s The Silent Evolution shows us what is possible when art, water, and environmental mindfulness connect through human creativity and passion. Photo courtesy of Jason deCaires Taylor/

Made in 2010, The Silent Evolution is a public underwater art piece consisting of 400 life-size sculptures, or casts, of human figures. The casts are placed over more than 420 square meters in their permanent aquatic installation space. Taylor’s sculpture looks into the natural progression of change that takes place in all nature. The artist explains, “It’s environmental evolution, art intervention as growth, or a balancing of relationships.” This is similar to the intentions behind many ecologically minded creations, regardless of their scale.

To me, the beauty in this piece lies in the fact that, over the years, these figurative casts will be completely changed by the effects of the surrounding marine life. The sculptures will literally become half-fabricated figures, half-aquatic creatures. This slow transformation has already begun to take shape, as evidenced by “a fur of algae on a girl’s cheek, and a starfish on a nun’s face.”


Everything in our world that we have created will be changed over time by nature. However, this evolutionary process is so slow that we don’t notice it happening in our daily lives. An example of this is how we don’t usually see ourselves aging day-to-day, but when we look back at photos from the past, the effects of time are apparent — sometimes shockingly so!

Taylor’s installation highlights this process, enabling us to see nature’s omnipotence in full effect through the change in the sculptures. His choice to visually represent humans is apt; we will relate to the shifts in the figures’ outward appearances on a more personal level. The Silent Evolution is a mirror that Taylor is holding up to our society: in it is a reflection of nature’s incessant power, and its innate ability to move and change everything we create.

Other important aspects to Taylor’s work are a sense of loss and the fragile nature of life:

“Over the last 20 years, our generation has encountered rapid change; technologically, culturally and geographically. I feel this has left us with an underlying sense of loss. My work tries to record some of those moments.”

Form and function

Another public art piece that merges artistic sensibility, architecture, and innovation is Nam’s human Pump, with “obvious implications considering the impending global water shortage.”  This structure is concerned with increasing the amount of clean drinking water that people have access to by using science and design together. This unique structure functions through an interesting combination of science and design: “Beneath the wooden slats is a system of water pumps. They capture the kinetic energy from peoples’ footsteps and use it to pump water.”

While “it will probably be a while before the Human Pump kinetic energy system makes the leap from artistic novelty to practical tool,” creations like these are necessary to motivate and inspire potential future design endeavors that are pragmatically cost-effective, though equally beautiful.

To my art-loving eyes, everyone who walks over this structure is essentially part of an ongoing community-based public performance. Both awareness and energy are generated, as well as an inspiring awe-factor. It’s important to put the magic back into our world, because we need motivation to help us do the hard work required in changing our habits.

Because it’s too costly at this moment in time, Nam’s human pump is not to going change lives just yet. But it also points to the idea that starting small and simple is the way to go about making real change, one day at a time. Practical actions that we can make today can be as beautiful as grand underwater installations if we open our hearts to the possibilities that exist within ourselves.

Water and design at home

For an example of this, we can look to the Soma water filter, which combines creativity and environmental mindfulness to produce positive change. Taylor’s opulent installation, Nam’s innovative human pump, and Soma’s all-natural water filter all share similar values. With intentions of mindfulness, environmentalism, and holistic design, these were all made possible through connecting human creativity with water.

In reality, being a conscientious consumer can create just as much positive change as a majestic underwater installation. While less grand in scale, holistic design and honorable intentions make the Soma water filter an inspired marriage of water and artistic design. Photo courtesy of

While Taylor’s water sculpture inspires thought, Soma’s water filter inspires action — the everyday kind that can actually help us make a difference in the water crisis, and also practice mindful choices as consumers. Practical, small designs are no less integral to the evolution of our relationship with our natural world than large, impressive art installations — both play equally important roles in moving our society forward.

We are participants in nature’s ever-evolving narrative. When we acknowledge our role and seize opportunities to make nature’s story richer, we inherently become a positive part of its poetic evolution. The truth in our actions is revealed when we help to shape the story of our universe by working with it in tandem: it’s up to us to become the poetry we want to experience in the world.