Dark Waters: new exhibition explores our emotional response to the deep

Lucy Ray’s new photography exhibition, Dark Waters, aims to capture the range of emotions we feel when contemplating unknown depths. 

Taking place at The Arthouse, Sheffield this November, Dark Waters invites viewers to immerse themselves in compelling and captivating underwater photography. 

Photographer Lucy Ray wanted to capture the range of emotions that dark water can produce, from fear to joy and excitement. The exhibition intends to tap into our primal response to immersion in deep, dark waters and it stems from Lucy’s own experiences with water.

“I have been taking photos underwater for 20 years. It’s fascinating the different ways people react to being in dark water so I wanted to capture this in a series of images,” said Lucy. “I feel happy and peaceful underwater, but my mother nearly drowned as a child so she was terrified of water and always stayed away.” Her artwork also features on the cover of Suede’s album, Night Thoughts (released in 2016).

Underwater dreamscapes

Lucy worked with male and female models, as well as children and a dog. “‘Over or Under’ is my favourite shot as it looks like the model is doing the splits on the surface of the water,” said Lucy. “Rebecca is a former Team GB synchronised swimmer, so she was able to perform this move with ease.”

“Sea Dreams is meant to capture the dreamy feeling of being underwater. Everything is the same but a bit different, like in a dream.”

As much as they evoke cold, darks depths in lakes, Lucy actually shot the photos in warm indoor swimming pools. She used a black backdrop to mimic night-time and underwater strobes to illuminate the subjects. 

Lucy lives in Sheffield and swims in the surrounding countryside. “My favourite places are Slippery Stones, as you can jump in there, and Rivelin plunge pool as it’s a hidden gem. I also love the river at Chatsworth as it’s so scenic and the backdrop is very grand.”

Dark Waters will be on display at The Arthouse, Sheffield, 23-28 November. Afterwards, the images will be available to view on the Starfish Underwater Photography website.

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Jo is the Gear Editor for Outdoor Swimmer and also writes news and features for the website. A keen open water swimmer and long-distance walker, she loves seeking out lakes and lidos close to her home in the Mendip Hills, Somerset. She is the author of The Slow Traveller, editor and founder of independent magazine, Ernest, and has previously tested outdoor clothing and kit for BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Focus and Ernest Journal.