We all have a precious memory early on in our lives that initially struck curiosity and wonder inside of us. Whether it was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, visions of underwater treasure, mermaids, Atlantis, the Kraken, or pirate fortune on the seafloor, this group of ocean enthusiasts dreamed of magic beneath the waves.
Enthralled by classic art images of divers in heavy antique gear and mermaids, this experienced underwater crew paid tribute to the beauty of the sea and the people that pioneered dive exploration by doing an actual vintage dive with a real-life mermaid in the ocean!
What better way to engage a child’s curiosity and inspire community support for sea life than to create truly unique underwater art? They wanted to commemorate the brave divers from history and inspire wonder and curiosity into the future.
“I felt like I had gone straight into a vintage undersea science fiction movie. I looked out of the top face port of a brass-heavy gear helmet at a real-life mermaid descending into the depths. Beside me, my self-built treasure chest glistened and reflected light off the gold and jewels. The only sound I could hear was the air hissing into my helmet. The mermaid would swim up to me for minutes at a time as the water surged back and forth against the rocky Catalina reef, and the camera strobes would flash, capturing magic every time,” remarked commercial diver, Josh Myers.
Josh became a SCUBA diver at age 16 and went on to become an Association of Diving Contractors (ADC) certified underwater commercial contractor with a specialty in underwater welding. He has experience diving in marine construction, environmental response, and deep-sea salvage which led him to starting his own commercial dive company, Myers Marine Division LLC. Josh discovered that his job was ultimately to protect the ocean and support anyone who shared that belief.
The photographer, Brett Stanley, is an incredibly skilled diver at the forefront of underwater portraiture in Los Angeles and has had years of experience creating real-life imagery with mermaids. His dedication to creating shoots that rely on real-life skills, practical props, and in-camera effects made him the perfect talent to pull this project off.
Hannah Fraser created the vocation of a ‘Professional Mermaid,’ making spectacular mermaid tails, performing and speaking for film, TV, events, and environmental actions. She is featured worldwide for her breathtaking underwater performance art with large ocean animals as an advocate for female empowerment and conservation.
Justin Lutsky, an experienced underwater filmmaker and seasoned dive professional, rounded out this A-team by managing and producing the logistics and shooting an incredible behind-the-scenes short film, in and out of the water, to highlight the challenges and adventure of this endeavor.
And so, this magical underwater ‘dream team’ of uniquely skilled dive professionals and creative artists was born!
These images are the culmination of their collective childhood dreams. Seeing a vintage diver and a mermaid underwater together had previously only been created using computer-generated imagery (CGI) or in paintings and drawings . . . never in real life on the seafloor!
With cameras in hand, Brett worked to create these amazing images whilst Justin was dedicated to documenting the entire process. The team had many obstacles to overcome that day; from a strong ocean surge and frigid water, to significant safety considerations but nothing phased them. Between their creative problem solving, Josh’s extensive dive knowledge, and Hannah’s fearless approach, this extremely challenging shoot brought fantasy into reality.
Justin Lutsky was managing the shoot while also capturing behind-the-scenes footage.
“Working in the open water environment is completely unpredictable and having a team of experts that can roll with the punches, adapt, overcome, and creatively problem solve underwater is crucial,” Justin said of his pro-team. “We had so many different moving parts that all came together in unison to create these images.”
It took 2 months of intense labor, prop creation, logistical planning, and team building to create these unique images. In addition to the production crew, there was a full team of ADC and professional safety divers present. Joseph Rosado (ADC), Jon Curtis (Riverside County Sheriff Dive Team), and Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) open water instructor, Brandon Wermes. Local legend, Ron Warren, chartered his commercial dive boat, Marlin, located in Long Beach, CA accompanied by dive boat captain, Dan Berman.
Josh recounted his experience. “I was pinned to the seafloor under the immense weight of the antique heavy gear. It was shocking to think that this was the way commercial diving was done in the past. It was insanely heavy in comparison to the modern gear, and I was acutely aware of having to continually purge the CO2. My air supply was a single hose simply displacing water in my helmet. I was very encumbered by the suit, and yet, I felt oddly comfortable in the heavy gear.”
Photographer Brett Stanley is an experienced diver in all sorts of dangerous situations from sharks to shipwreck, but seeing Josh in the antique gear was a new level of intensity for him.
“I was in the water when Josh started to get off the boat and watching him dropping 40 feet to the ocean floor I was having a panic attack. I could see him inside that heavy suit getting adjusted, and it was freaking me out! When he hit the bottom, he just started running across the ocean floor as I was finning backward trying to keep up with him to capture the moment on camera,” he recounted.
The helmet Josh wore was the seventh Kirby Morgan air hat ever made. In case something went wrong and the antique metal dive helmet filled with water, the ADC certified safety support diver was outfitted with a Superlite Kirby Morgan 77 and various cutting tools to slice open Josh’s dive suit and insert an extra air hose to displace the water from inside the bell helmet.
Hannah was zipped and tied into a realistic and constrictive mermaid tail on the ocean floor that took her 6 months to create. Incredibly, while the rest of the crew wore dry suits, Hannah slipped off the boat and into freezing 63 degrees California water. She was completely exposed to the elements and performed for nearly 30 minutes with blurry underwater vision, breath-holding for minutes at a time, and somehow managing to make it look beautiful and effortless while nearly getting hypothermia.
“You have to let go and surrender into the moment and trust the team to keep you safe while you perform. The bonds you form doing this kind of work are literally life or death buddies!
Being weightless in suspended animation, floating past vibrant reef colors, and playing in the sparkling underwater light, every diver has a sense of adventure and a death-defying desire to discover something new, not just about the ocean, but something deeper about themselves,” she shared.
When Josh reached the shoot location underwater, he finally had a moment to marvel at the fact that his dream was finally coming to fruition. “The view from inside my helmet was spectacular, watching this team we assembled smoothly execute and bring our collective vision to life at the bottom of the ocean,” he remembered.
“What was also on my mind was the fact that all of the redundancies and safeties we find on modern dive gear simply were not there. In a very counter-intuitive way, I felt almost more connected with the ocean being stripped of all those modern systems. I also thought about the evolution of diving systems and how far the equipment has come. What it must have been like in World War II, diving down into wreckage with a cutting torch in hand. I immediately felt humbled and at the same time proud of being a diver with enough experience to pull this off safely. I was humbled by the talent I was surrounded with, and the opportunity to create something truly unique,” he said.
“If you can imagine being in this metal chamber looking out of this tiny little window and your mind is just questioning, ‘What am I actually seeing here?’ it was so surreal to interact with a real-life mermaid in the ocean,” exclaimed Josh
“Being down there with Josh in that antique diving suit was so surreal. We went to every length to make sure we had the most vintage, authentic, realistic image ever. I felt like I had gone back in time! Seeing his face peering out of the tiny, fogged-up metal porthole gave me claustrophobia, and made me admire his bravery. Playing off another performer who was wearing something as crazy as I was made me feel much more realistic in my character,” recounted the gutsy mermaid, Hannah.
“Her dedication to her craft is remarkable,” praised Josh. “This team has so much potential. We barely even scratched the surface. We have the ability to facilitate full-blown underwater production work in the open ocean.”
Despite the incredibly challenging shoot conditions, Brett Stanely captured a range of truly incredible images, evoking old-world fantasy with a vintage flavor using new technology!
His vision is clear, “From this platform, we want to leap to doing a full short film. The photo shoot was just the beginning. We’re taking the inspiration of the images, with the experience and learning of doing the shoot in the open ocean to come back bigger and better in 2022. With this incredible team, we can take our initial concept to a whole new level and create a moving picture that has so much more depth!”
Official site: https://thediverandthemermaid.com
Be sure to follow the team’s creative accounts on social media for more incredible underwater diving content:
Hannah Mermaid IG – @hannahmermaid
Brett Stanley IG – @brettsphoto
Justin Lutsky IG – @jlutskyphoto
Myers Marine Division IG – @myersmarinedivision