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How did you get started in underwater photography?
Aged 18 I went on a scuba diving holiday and didn’t come home for a year. I became a diving instructor, travelled around, picked up a camera and taught myself to use it. Back then we were filling cameras with film so my efforts were a roller coaster of success and failure – mostly the latter.
What came first – diving or photography?
Diving. The photography has grown from a fascination with light and life beneath the waves. Photography is a way to bring back some of the magic.
What’s in your underwater photography kitbag?
My weapon of choice is the Canon 1DC. I love that I can shoot hi-res film and stills with the same camera so effortlessly. A flick of the switch and I’ve moved from one medium to the other. The 1DC fits very snugly into my Seacam housing and I sometimes use Ikelite flash, purely because I can throw them around and they still tend to work. There’s also a very large pile of terry towels which are essential to the kit list.
Favourite location for diving and underwater photography?
I could say one of the many Caribbean islands but that’s rather cliché, so I’m going to suggest a weird and wonderful location in the River Plate, Uruguay. Filming for National Geographic TV I found myself on a Spanish Galleon sunk in the 18th century and littered with gold and silver treasure of all kinds. Skeletons galore, still preserved in their military uniforms with shoe leather and copper buttons in place, it was honestly the stuff of movie sets. I sucked my tank dry before reluctantly having to surface after a 1:40 hour dive. It is protected by the rough water of the river and plenty of Uruguayan politics so its location was a secret and I only had the opportunity to make one dive to capture imagery and tell the story.
Most challenging dive?
A training dive at Stoney Cove on a rebreather, in the middle of winter. Need I say more?
Who are your diving inspirations?
Louis Boutan (1859-1934). In 1893 he’s credited with creating the first underwater portrait.
Which underwater locations or species are still on your photography wish list and why?
My log book is filled with many thousands of amazing dives from around the globe, but I’ve never seen a manta! It’s a cause for great concern and much ridicule from people who know me.
What responsibility do you think underwater photographers have to raise awareness about the environment?
Underwater photographers are in a very privileged position to not only see, but to capture what goes on underwater. I recently worked with Amanda Holden and PETA to raise awareness about orcas in captivity and I have an ongoing project to about the plight of chalk rivers in the UK. In my 20 years of being a diver I’ve seen the oceans fill up with plastic. Photographs capture truths and there are a whole lot of truths about man’s impact underwater that need sharing.
What advice do you wish you’d had as a novice underwater photographer?
Get a better camera.
Hairiest moment when shooting underwater?
Filming Great Whites for the BBC in South Africa. I was seriously over-weighted, carrying a massive camera and wearing an ill-fitting dry suit. As I clambered over the side of the boat to get into the chicken wire cage I remember thinking, ‘If I miss the entrance to this thing it’s going to be a very long way back in chummed water, surrounded by some very excited sharks.’
What is your most memorable dive?
My first night dive aged 16. I found a baby octopus that sat on my hand, touching and feeling my face for close to an hour. At the end of the dive I put him back where I had found him, which happened to be next to another, larger octopus. I didn’t know back then that octopus are cannibals. I was utterly horrified when the inevitable occurred…
Zena Holloway has photographed Olympians, sports personalities, singers and songwriters as well as newborn babies, indigenous peoples and creatures of all shapes and sizes; both marine and terrestrial. Born in Bahrain and raised between London and pretty much everywhere else in the world, she went on her first dive in England as a teenager. Charmed by the magic of the underwater world, she began experimenting with a camera and decided to chart her own course in an ultra-niche profession. Nobody showed her the ropes; she taught herself.
Her most recent projects, such as Seawomen and Cry Me a River, look at the deep emotional connection people have to oceans, lakes and waterways. Her images reflect darker emotions as well as feelings of happiness and calm that being near and around water can inspire. Zena lives on the outskirts of London with her husband and three young children in a converted Ministry of Defence underground torpedo-testing centre. When she’s not underwater taking pictures, she can often be found cycling with the kids to school through Bushy Park or outside feeding their Chalk Hill Blue hens.
Zena is running an underwater fashion masterclass workshop in Riviera Maya, Mexico, from 5-9th May 2019. Full details can be found at: https://divenmore.lpages.co/zena-master-class/