On Feb. 9, the Chihuly goes underwater with Shayna Leib, a glass sculptor whose glass work will appear alongside her underwater photography in Shayna Leib: Into the Deep. We asked her to chat with us about her work, her inspiration and her technique.
When did you start working with undersea glass sculptures?
I started that series when I was in graduate school at and at that point in time, it was all about flow pattern and motions. It started off as exploration into patterns of flow, like what you would see — grass, wind blowing over grass, what you would find if you were looking at a coral landscape. You can't detect flow by itself; you can really only portray it vicariously. In the wind part of my series — it's call the Wind and Water series — it explores cold winds and grasslands. The water part of it explores water phenomena, including hydrokinetics, patterns of flow and then underwater seascapes and creatures as well.
How did you get into SCUBA?
There were a lot of species that I was interested in that I couldn't get an idea of what their structure was by looking in books; there was some gaps. That was when I started diving. I absolutely went bonkers with it. Funny story: I have a phobia of swimming pools; I have nightmares, maybe once a month. Learning to dive where I am (Madison, Wisconsin) was not an option; I cannot go in a swimming pool. I decided to get my certification in Hawaii because I found a place where I could do a certification in the ocean.
What reef areas influenced these coral landscapes in your work?
All over the world; I am a diver and some of this comes from personal experience — (from) a little bit of everywhere except for southwest Asia; I have not gotten there yet. Some of it comes from personal experience; other part of it comes from studying, in textbooks.
Your underwater photographs are part of this exhibit and part of the series. What do you shoot with?
I've had a couple different cameras. I started with a G11 and right now I'm shooting with a Canon 60D, and a couple of strobes. Everything underwater is actually a shade of brown, green or blue. You start to lose the wavelengths of light that are red orange or yellow; you see colors up to 15 feet and then they start to disappear. As a recreational diver I'm certified to 120 feet. I need a strobe to recapture those wavelengths; because they get lost through the depth.
The deeper you go, the less amount of you can stay down. How long does the average underwater shoot take you?
It depends if with I'm an advance diver or a group. Some of the dives are around a half and hour; if I'm with an experience diver whose good on air, I can be down for anywhere from 50 to an hour and 15.
So these are digital works. What do you do to enhance?
I use a little bit of PhotoShop but the post-processing is pretty minimal — pretty much it's cropping. Once in a while I'll use a little but of histogram but I'm not really into supersaturation; I'm not into a lot of post-processing. Post processing is sort of a crutch. I don't tend to make it look like it has lenses and special effects on it; that's not really my style.
As for the sculpture, how much is drawn from the photos and how much from your imagination?
Probably 50/50. Sometimes it's literal and sometimes I'm more into evocation. As an artist I do take liberties, but sometimes I'll see something amazing and have to make it exactly as it is, or as close as possible. With goniophora, I make it literal as possible — as realistic as possible, not too much interpretation or artistic liberties. I don't have too much to add; I think it's perfect as it is. Sometimes I like to evoke things and let the viewer interpret.
Into the Deep opens Feb. 9 with a special preview Feb. 8; get more info here.