In Revealing Images, photographer Don Spiro dishes up sweet photographic treats and the stories behind them. Today, Don aims his lens at Julie Atlas Muz.
Julie Atlas Muz is a dancer, actress, performance artist, and a friend. I’d always wanted to take pictures of her at the Coral Room where she performed as a mermaid in a gigantic salt-water aquarium behind the bar. She wouldn’t just swim around and pose like an underwater pin up, she became a fish, staring unblinkingly at patrons and blending in with the other marine life as if she naturally belonged.
Julie called me once to tell me the Coral Room was closing, and that in the last days we could have the place to ourselves for a shoot. This was a dream come true, and we spent an entire afternoon shooting. I shot Julie in different mermaid costumes and also as an aquatic pin-up, but then she changed out of the mermaid tail and wore nothing but a sheer flowing cover-up that both clung to and flowed around her body as she went through ballet-like motions through the water.
Although the bar was very dark, and the water was lit by overhead fluorescents, shooting the tank was like shooting into a giant mirror. The wall of glass reflected every little light in the room, from the neon signs and table lamps to signs for the exit. Shooting straight into the tank I could see my own reflection. I solved this problem by turning off, or turning around, as many of the light fixtures as I could and by putting a polarizer on my lens, turning it until it minimized the reflections.
The fish and coral looked beautiful but flat, the fluorescent lights illuminating everything just enough for bar patrons but too dark to shoot with any depth, especially with a polarizer on the lens. I followed Julie behind the bar and over to the top of the tank, where the fluorescents were rigged to a pipe truss. I brought several of my own tungsten light units: two thousand watt open faced DP lights and two 650 watt open faced Omni units. I put half blue color correction gel to each of them and rigged them at various points over the tank shooting straight down like beams of sunlight cutting through the surface. This lit the bubbles and various particles of dust in the water, creating rays that streaked through the water which Julie could pass through as she moved.
I’m a fan of pre-Raphaelite painters, especially their interpretations of Hamlet’s Ophelia, and I can’t help but draw comparisons. The way Miss Muz moved, her nudity visible through the sheer billowing fabric, the way the light played off the garment’s folds and her body, and the way she turned her face to the rays of the simulated sun all fell in amongst the living sea creatures of the aquarium. I think it is one of the most naturally ethereal photographs I’ve ever shot.