Deep Sea Photography – review

Meaghan Ogilvie
by Robert Lansdale

TorontoOur second speaker of the April meeting was Meaghan Ogilvie, an underwater photographer.  Like Ms Joyce, Meaghan wanted to promote family, in  her case to make better known and raise research funds for a rare, currently incurable condition, Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) diagnosed in her father. Meaghan was open, candid, and charming in her talk. Although she was unaccustomed to public speaking, she made up for it with her enthusiasm. I found out later that she is very effective promoting her work and herself in this digital world. 

Meaghan attended Sheridan College’s program for Commercial Photography, but switched paths when she found her strength was in Fine Art Photography. At the time she began her body of work, few did underwater photography. She brought with her tonight her $5,000 Canon camera, housed in its watertight container. Even in water, it’s very heavy and wearying for her to use in day-long shoots.

She hired underwater dancers and experimented with them. Not photographically technical, she uses natural light (fluctuating through the day), surface reflections and backgrounds of abstract media. Shooting manually in fluctuating light meant constant adjustments to her camera’s settings. Underwater shots demanded special skills like treading water to shoot, and keeping in sync with her subjects; rising to the surface in unison to breathe and give vocal directions. A day long shoot even in this controlled environment took all her energy in spite of still water and no wild life distractions.

She chose to use fabrics to make prints of her models and brought international attention to her work and through it to her father’s condition. She originally thought that documentary photography or a career as a photojournalist would be necessary to get attention on MSA and other important issues but she learned that her underwater work could and did get her online and on the radio.

Meaghan didn’t know how to be a fine arts photographer in Toronto. At first, she tried small art fairs with limited success. But that exposure did help her to go different directions. One was a commission from the 2015 PANAM games! Four years earlier, in a small art fair, it was suggested that she submit her work for a commission to display in the Allen Lambert Galleria at Brookfield Place in Toronto’s financial district. In October of that year, it was accepted! She called her exhibit “Requiem of Water”, and she worked closely with the Anishinaabe women of Ontario for inspiration to bring the flow of water to this very busy financial place.

She mounted her images on a series of 5×15 foot canvas panels, each on a heavy base. Since the exhibit was to be in a public area open 24 hours a day, she worked with metal workers to figure out how to make the pieces safe and secure from tipping. Printing was another huge undertaking. Her images had to be both a large size and of good quality. The exhibition costs (including insurance) pushed her to successfully solicit public funding via the web. For Meaghan, this exhibit matured her work and her experience as a photographer and artist. She learned to delegate what she could not handle, but It took Meaghan two years get over the effort. She even considered quitting photography!

This all changed once agaIn when She had an opportunity to go to Vancouver Island. The location was an artist’s residency on a natural inlet and beach at Tahsis, about seven hours north of Tofino, both on the island’s western edge. There, she collaborated with other artists. She was encouraged to shoot what she liked, not what was assigned and enjoyed more simplistic photography, often in simple black and white imagery, like tree planters, people swimming, fisherman relaxing, etc. While there, she did some swimming and photography underwater. The natural beauty of the island woman was like that of models in the fashion industry. She discovered watermarks left on the camera housing just added an artistic touch to some photos. She learned to print her photos on wood too and while it took many painstaking hours to do, she found it very meditative. 

Meaghan wrapped up her talk with a discussion of her latest efforts and then opened a spirited Q&A covering more detail on the equipment she used and ways to fund larger venues like Brookfield.

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