Somewhere between light and shadow, between water, surface and space, between dreamscape and dance lies the artistic vision of Czech photographer Libor Spacek. The sensual figures within his art are recognizable, but their surrounding elements are less clear. The women seem to float in a timeless twilight above fragmented pools of their own reflections, and they are at once both intriguing and alluring. We spoke with Spacek about life under the waters of Prague.
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Sez G: You have a stunning collection of underwater nudes, both black and white and color. When did you start shooting underwater?
Libor Spacek: I began my underwater photography after returning to Prague in 2001 from NYC where I was a scuba instructor. I had just prepared my new underwater camera housing for a trip to Egypt where I planned to shoot underwater sea life.
My diving student for one lesson was a fashion model. After the lesson, the model took off her neoprene and swam naked in the pool. I photographed her in black and white and was very surprised with the results.
After my trip to Egypt, I shot two nudes swimming together along with underwater life images from Egypt. It debuted at PAF Tachov 2002 (an international festival of underwater photography and movies in Czech Republic) and won third prize in the black & white category. I had found a way to succeed, not only as an underwater photographer, but as an artistic photographer well.
Sez G: Are your subjects models or swimmers?
Libor Spacek: In the beginning I took photos of female divers I had taught in diving class. Later I photographed models I met during my studio photography who had asked me to shoot them underwater. Now it's easier to find models. I present my work not only at my website but in magazines, books, calendars and galleries. Many models know my underwater art work and approach me for a shoot.
Sez G: I assume you're wearing diving gear, but how many shots can you get with each model's breath?
Libor Spacek: Yes, I use complete scuba gear, and I alternately spend time on the bottom and on the surface. Models don't need to be good swimmers, but their faces must look very natural underwater. I need them under the surface for about 10 to 15 seconds with each dive. If I see a good pose I photograph her in one breath. It averages about one shot for every three dives. The beginning is always the most difficult, but over the course of the shoot, the model gains experience.
Sez G: Some of them look COLD! How often do they have to jump out and warm up?
Libor Spacek: I usually work with two or three models during one shoot. Posing is very physically difficult, and the models have to dive underwater several times. When I have several models, they can switch out and take a break. They can even take a hot shower or slip on a bathrobe.
Sez G: How do you achieve that incredible lighting and the exquisite reflections (like under the woman with the red dress)?
Libor Spacek: It's very secret! No, I shoot my photos in a swimming pool at night, where I use specially made underwater lights. I switch off the overhead light and flash underwater searchlights at the bottom. Because the lights are on tripods, it looks like an underwater photo studio! My underwater lamps are very strong (1000 Watts) and red to help with the underwater reflection.
Sez G: How much photo retouching is required afterwards to eliminate dirt fragments, boost colors, etc?
Libor Spacek: I do some retouching, but it's not so important. I usually just remove some bubbles or dirt, and maybe add a little saturation to the color. I always choose a swimming pool with very clear, clean water.
Sez G: You grew up in the Czech Republic which has changed very much over the last 20 years. You currently live in Prague. How do you think the evolution of your country has affected your artistic vision and endeavors?
Libor Spacek: The best thing for Czech people is that we can now travel to other countries. This was very important to me. I started diving nine years ago, and I bought my first camera in NYC in 1999-2001 when I was studying there.
When I returned to Prague, no one in my country thought I could continue to be a photographer. But everything changed over next six years. I found myself in my passion for the light and shadows of photography. I'm a good example of people in my country, because I have realized and begun achieving my own dreams. I know I still have a long way to go!
Sez G: You're well on your way! You've recently begun working on commercials. What kind of ads?
Libor Spacek: I work with several famous companies in the Czech Republic like Canon, Olympus and Kodak. I've shot several times for foreign companies as well. My commercial and artistic work isn't only underwater; I also specialize in glamour and art. I'm a photographer who can work anywhere: in a photo studio, indoor and outdoor… though I still mainly work underwater. I can move more easily in water with my complete scuba and photographic gear than other people.
Sez G: What's next for you?
Libor Spacek: I would like to show my underwater fine art collection in foreign countries. Just now I finished my successful exhibition at Prague's Gallery Louvre. I'm in discussion with a New York gallery, and I'll probably spend March or April in NYC once again. I hope that I'll find more exhibition opportunities in the future!
We hope so too! To learn more about Libor Spacek, visit SpacekPhotos.com.
Libor Spacek - by Sez G.