They plunge to the bottom of the frozen sea, holding their breath, blinded by the murky abyss, searching not only for pearls, octopi or abalone, but also for freedom.
What would happen if their line were to break? Would the men comfortably sitting above in their boats, gleefully singing songs, try to save them? It doesn’t matter. The Japanese Ama defy the ridged confines of gender expectations because they are driven by a unified sense of purpose – to live free.
For the Ama or “women of the sea”, their faith is not in men but in nature. After all, the sea itself is an intoxicating female entity. Its creatures are the Ama’s allies. Their destinies are woven together like a fluid tapestry.
As the divers rise back to the surface and slowly exhale, the bay rings with the whistling echoes of their gentle gasp, and with it, reverberations of strength, autonomy, courage, stamina, and beauty.
The Ama are one of the most interesting elements of Japanese society. They are the female divers who, since about the year 750, have been diving for pearls, abalone, octopi, and lobsters, as well as harvesting seaweed along the coastline of Japan.
There are many fables of the Ama, including the story of Princess Tamatori, depicted in a Japanese block print from 1814 titled The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, by Hokusai. It is an example of Japanese erotic art called Shunga, popularized during the Edo Period. The divers were often represented as erotic, simply because in Japanese culture the sea is seen as a female entity.
It is believed that the print depicts the story of Princess Tamatori, a figure highly popularized during the Edo period. The princess was a modest shell diver or Ama, who was searching for a pearl stolen from her husband’s family, the Fujiwara Clan, by Ryujin, the dragon god of the sea. Vowing to find the jewel Tamatori dives down to Ryujin’s underwater palace and is pursued by the god and his army of sea creatures, including octopi. When she finds the pearl, she cuts open her own breast and places the jewel inside; allowing her to swim faster in her escape. After reaching the surface the wound proves fatal, and in her death she is forever viewed a heroine.
The Ama were and still are, women who sought independence and community. There are many Ama who continue to dive passed the age of 90. It is one of the few professions dominated by woman and where there were no restrictions on their freedom.
Men would occasionally dive, but it was thought a better job for women, as it was believed that women had an additional layer of fat to keep them warm in the frigid waters. The original Ama would dive nude wearing just a loincloth and a protective scarf on their head. Streamlining their bodies in this way allowed them to swim faster and it was easier to warm up without wet clothing clinging to their skin.
An experienced Ama diver could dive as deep as 30 meters and hold her breath for up to two minutes at a time. These courageous women would dive from rocks, the shoreline and boats, with rope strung around their waists, and men would wait in the boats above to pull them back to the surface.
The whistling noise that they emit when resurfacing is called “Isobue”, or “ocean whistle,” which helps regulate their breathing. At one time, their whistling echoes would fill the bays of Japan. The entire free-diving process allows Ama to develop an extremely large lung capacity — a characteristic that many then pass on to their children.
In the 11th Century a noblewomen, Sei Shonagon, wrote The Pillow Book, a collection of her observations. She had encountered the Ama during her travels: “ One wonders what would happen to them if the cord round their waist was to break.” She goes on, “the men sit comfortably in their boats, heartily singing songs…they do not show the slightest concern about the risks the woman is taking”.
Even though socially the Ama’s labor was certainly less valued than that of men, they were unique among the female population. During a time when women were considered the subjects of men, a woman that could earn her own living, and also dictate the migration of her entire family, was unequivocally liberated. Their positions in society existed on almost a surreal plain.
The Ama are inspirational to me, as an artist and a woman, for many reasons, but foremost because what they did was just what they had to do, regardless of risk or reward. Even more remarkable to me is how they did it; breaking traditional rules within the confines of an existing system and still preserving their individual authenticity along with the connection to their culture.
My series, Whistling Echoes, explores the mythology of these women. Through the use of metaphor and symbolism, my visual interpretation explores the relationship that these women had to the sea and it’s creatures and how it not only shaped their destiny but also allowed them to live free.
Donna Garcia is a Fine Art Photographer from the United States.
To see more work and get more information on the artist please have a look at her Website or Instagram.
Changing Beauty – The Changing Face of Beauty
© Caroline de Bertodano
For centuries beauty was represented by natural beauties. Salome, Guinevere and Nefertiti to name but a few. Later beauty was portrayed in artworks such as Botticelli’s Spring, Rossetti’s Other Woman, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and many Impressionist works. All evocative of something more than appearance. The Greek male nude sculptures and the female nude deities of Eastern Ishtar to the later Western art such as Donatello’s “David”, Titian’s “Venus of Urbino”, celebrated the natural human body. All to stir the mind as well as the sensual passions. Very recent depictions of beauty in art are dormant and beg the question as to why? A backlash to society’s ‘meat market’ and physical fabrications?
© Caroline de Bertodano
Through the ages, the size and shape of beauty have come and gone but natural was ever present. Different body types and features went in and out of fashion aided by the armoury of clothes and makeup but ‘natural’ was the foundation. People simply got on and appreciated more what they had been born with. In recent times, celebrity has replaced almost everything and as the avarice consumers we have become, we follow like sheep.
© Caroline de Bertodano
The reality of beauty, either male or female, is that almost every person is not happy in their own skin and has a list of what they feel disdain for about themselves, if not pure self-loathing by many women. An agenda of what they would change if they had the money. Massively increased depression & eating disorder numbers have the psychiatrists rewriting the psychology books. If we add ageing to the equation, what was ’50 is the new 30’ and now ’50 is the new 70′ based on looks alone. Media role models advocate nothing but shallow appearance, they negate the actual being, of being human, born natural and undoubtedly will die as bare to living as death intends. Time will always transcend the superficial.
Every age has issues of imperfection but never before to such extremes and even the 20 somethings have joined the mass hysteria in the quest for perfection and elusive eternal youth, where beauty is considered to reside. Exaggerated ideas of imperfection and the ‘fixing myself’ phrase is often heard. With the explosion of social media and its consequential hunting grounds, the idea of perfection is now so media influenced by pretense, false impressions of image, persona and of course the eternal super skinny body form…. no surprise there! Many men are taken in by these falsehoods. But in this age of ’swipe right’, they just move on to the next idea on their perfection list, wondering why they cannot find true and lasting love. Women have become competitive instead of supportive, putting good images of themselves to annoy other women or for attention that they lack in reality.
© Caroline de Bertodano
“I’d like to say that I would be happier in my natural skin but given the opportunity, I would enhance myself. It would seem silly not to. When we live in a world where celebrities and superstars are always looking amazing and we are exposed to the ideal woman and figure all the time, why wouldn’t you want to keep up? There seems to be a much higher standard of beauty… not a natural beauty but a beauty that can be made through cosmetic surgery. You only need to look at the ‘IT’ girls of now and look at a ‘before and after photo’ to realise they are doing it. It eventually just comes down to money. Money can buy physical beauty essentially and if I had the money I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t make changes to myself. Every girl has something they hate about themselves or feels self-conscious about and if it somewhat bothers you, of course, you are going to want to change that. It is not like there are any female role models advocating natural of ‘inner’ beauty but quite the opposite really; young girls are bombarded and almost brainwashed by social media about what is a normal young girl should or does actually look like”
Eva 21 years.
© Caroline de Bertodano
There is a chasm of difference between plastic and cosmetic surgery.
Plastic surgery is ‘reconstructive’ for medical reasons and includes, burns, limb loss, birth defects, trauma and disease and is vital, both externally & internally life-saving.
Cosmetic surgery is elective, ‘a choice’ by an individual to enhance appearance only.
© Caroline de Bertodano
With endless procedures, media & social influence, the idea of beauty means many are starting to look alike. Some so alien from their original self they become modern day monsters as procedures ‘fall’ and they lack the money to redo them. Expressiveness and uniqueness are being lost. The expressiveness of a child’s face in laughter, the look of love, is the beauty & emotion within that is expressed externally.
© Caroline de Bertodano
However, in some adults, they can no longer show emotion on over engineered faces, which in turn affects the emotional communication in relationships. First impressions aside, if we are all impressed by certain looks alone, the character, mind and soul; the internal self, go unconsidered and disappointment and failed relationships surely follow. Is Audrey Hepburn, one of the iconic beauty’s of our time, now ‘imperfect’? Her beauty came from what was inside as well as outside and many talk of her internal light.
© Caroline de Bertodano
The greatest beauty is the true natural beauty requiring three vital ingredients. Looks, mind and soul. Ever fallen in love with someone you least expected to and been surprised because they are not your ‘normal type’ but because of ‘who’ they are, not just what they looked like? Imperfections pale into insignificance on realizing emotional depth, mindful heights and the confidence they generate. True beauty is the combination and what artists for centuries before us tried to depict.
© Caroline de Bertodano
I would rather see the truth in someone’s eyes and the micro expressions that connect to the soul’s windows than an empty one-dimensional being that simply ‘looks good’. Beauty will always change but not at its core. My Mother used to say, ‘feed the brain and soul as well as the body’ and true beauty is those three things that make up the internal natural light, ‘the natural beauty’ and the only thing that will sustain relationships and transcend the chattels of time.
© Caroline de Bertodano
© Caroline de Bertodano
© Caroline de Bertodano 2017
I Am My Mother’s Daughter: My Journey in Photography
My love affair with photography began with my mother. It was not love at first sight. My mother was always taking pictures. Always. Her camera held permanent residence in her handbag, and our lives were put on instant play-pause whenever she was inspired to take a shot, which was often. As a young child, I never thought about this as her passion, but only as an assigned pose to be endured for as long as it took for her to rummage through her purse to find the camera, get the camera out of its case and then get the shot she was looking for. Full disclosure: I was not in the least bit cooperative. However, I was eventually pulled in by all the photos she took, and I began, not only to appreciate them, but to look at them with a more critical eye. I never offered outright (what I thought of as) constructive criticism of my mother’s photos (an action that would have resulted in any number of unpleasant outcomes…. as a very good-looking and somewhat spoiled woman, my mother was more than a bit vain in all areas of her life).
In my mind, I might have been thinking, she should have turned us more towards the light, or away from the light or taken a few steps forward or backward. My interest was piqued, and for my 8th birthday, my mother bought me a Brownie camera of my own.
Of course, at first, I began shooting any subject that was close at hand: including my hand, my dolls, my clothes, my record player, my dresser, my closet door, dust bunnies under my bed, whatever struck my young fancy. In those pre-digital days, I was allowed two rolls of film and one pack of flash bulbs per month, as the film, flash bulbs, developing and printing all had to be paid for out of pocket. I quickly learned to become more selective in my photographic endeavors as not to waste those important resources on frivolous subjects. Time passed, my cameras became more sophisticated, I took classes, I poured over photography books by the masters and I discovered that photography was as much a passion for me as it had been for my mother.
Fast forward a good number of years, into the digital age of cameras. No longer was I bound by the constraints of finance: I could take as many pictures as my memory card would hold! It was a wonderful thing, very freeing. I could take more photos, more photos than I ever had in my entire life. I could experiment more, the possibilities were endless. The drawback, at least as far as my family may be concerned, is that the circle was unbroken: I had now become my mother, only more so. Someone closed their eyes? Delete and retake! Is the composition a bit off or the light not quite right? Delete, reposition and retake! Sunlight streaming behind everyone through the trees? Take one shot head on, move to the left and shoot another, move to the right and take a shot, shoot low, shoot high; take as many shots as your heart desires. It’s a photo junkie’s dream come true.
Enter the mobile phone with its ability to take photographs using a built-in camera. A mobile phone (or as I prefer to call it, my camera phone) that can be taken wherever I roam. This little bit of wizardry (or little bit of heaven) is nothing if not easily portable. This has opened up a whole new world, negating the need to have an unwieldy camera hanging from my neck or a heavy backpack full of lenses and equipment slung over my shoulder unless I choose to go shooting pics old school. Taking photos no longer needs to be a delicate balancing act. As I did when I first began, I can simply point my camera phone and shoot. And, as my mother before me, I now carry my camera in my purse (or in a pinch, in my pocket.)
It might have ended here if not for all those glorious photo apps. I could go on for days, but prefer to focus on my favorite camera app, Hipstamatic. I discovered mobile photography and the Hipstamatic app within months of each other in early 2012. Left reeling from the deaths of my father, my father-in-law and my mother within a three month period in late 2011, I desperately needed an all-consuming distraction. My first iPhone (4S) and the Hipstamatic app fit that bill to a “T.” I believe I was drawn to Hipstamatic because it’s a neat little app designed to recreate photos produced by the so-called toy cameras of the 50s, 60s and 70s. It’s so much more than that, because along with numerous combinations of lens, film and flash filters, there is a full editing suite, which taps into my creative side. I can play with its features in so many more ways than I could with the actual toy cameras I once owned.
Now that I am retired, I am free to wander the countryside, happily snapping away to my heart’s content. The child who wanted to shoot photos of every conceivable subject has been redeemed. There’s a big, beautiful world out there, just waiting to have its picture taken. I take enormous pleasure in snapping shots of a favorite tree or bridge in the different light of day, in different seasons. Every hour of every day presents a new photo opportunity. It’s a new view of an old friend with every click of the shutter. Ironically, I cannot stop taking pictures of my children and my grandchildren. I am in constant stealth mode, camera phone in hand, hunting for the perfect candid moment. My mother would have gotten a big kick out of this.
Kat Meininger can be found on Instagram: mobile photography as @kats_eye_phone & DSLR photography as @kats_eye_images ; as the founder of @hipsta_crazy & Admin of @photomafia group of photo sharing galleries.
“Here Today Gone Tomorrow – The delicate balance of sand, water and life.”
I have been drawn to a thin spit of sand and scrub pine for the past 20 years. The landscape is shaped and re-shaped by storm after storm. Sand dunes, sculpted by the wind and sea, slowly shift, creating an ever-changing mural. The quality of light is otherworldly. Sand, water and weather are the key – high and low pressure fronts change so quickly light becomes ephemera.
The Cape Cod National Seashore comprises a majority of the landmass on the Outer Cape. It is shaped by vast stretches of dunes, bogs, ponds, forests and beaches – all accessible to anyone willing to hike in. The delicate balance of sand and water is a tug of war between the land and the sea. It is a powerful, yet fleetingly beautiful place.
My wife, Ellie, is an impressionist painter. She is a student of the Cape Cod School of Art, established by Charles Webster Hawthorne in Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1898. We spend our time together in the dunes and beaches of Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown. We hike in and find a spot. Ellie sets up her easel, spending hours on one painting. As she works, I wander, studying the landscape. This change of pace has taught me to slow down, be patient, have faith in my composition and wait for the light. More often than not, the storm clouds persist, the light stays flat and nondescript. But on occasion, one is given the gift of a moment, the clouds break and the landscape erupts in beauty.
I visit these haunts ritually, photographing and re-photographing the landscape. It is a form of meditation, a cathartic experience where the quality of the light transforms the familiar to the unreal.
As vulnerable as this habitat is, it pushes back against human attempts to protect it. Snow fences, erected to slow the movement of sand and inevitable erosion, are buried and crushed by the constant flow of wind and water.
Concrete piers and stone breakwaters are eventually broken by the tides, washed out to sea or left upended, a relic from the past. These crumbled and submerged forms are a testament to the natural powers that ravage the land.
The forces of nature are hard in the dunes. Flora is stunted and twisted, a wonderful contrast against the windswept sand. Competition between species, the perpetual fight for patches of fertile soil, creates a visual pallet of color and form. Natural boundaries between salt water species and fresh water species forge delineated lines that crash into a swirling patchwork of hue and texture.
It comes down to water. Frozen water formed the Cape. Glaciers deposited their till, forming the landmass. Water grinds the rock to sand. And water will eventually reclaim this thin spit of land, sucking it back into a dark and hidden tomb. One could say, what the water gives the water will take.
But for today, it’s the water that charges the light, opens the shadows, pushes the weather and gives the gift of this mystical place.
Thank you for taking the time to read and look at my photographs.
To see more of my photos, please visit me on: Instagram | Website.
I grew up next to the sea and I felt that I had everything: an endless summer, the song of the cicadas, a bunch of faces that refused to grow old and the taste of watermelon under the pine trees. The sea resembled an uncultivated field, where childhood was constantly being reborn and rewarded. I don’t remember all the faces I met, but I do somehow recall sudden expressions and fleeting images: the talk of older people before sunset, the whispering lips of women, the sweating foreheads of busy men, the agony for the coming winter, as well as the promise that a triumphant summer will conquer our lives again.
Then I lost the sea and the transition was violent. Entering the next phase of life kept me occupied but I could hardly somehow manage to return back to the early days. I wasn’t nostalgic or pessimistic; I was just longing for some sort of simplicity, a way of life based on spontaneity, on free will and on outspoken truths. Adulthood did not arrive as a blessing but as the fulfillment of a dreary prophecy. All the potential punishments of our childhood became our daily adult routine: “you’ll be left alone” or “you won’t get any money” or even “you are not allowed to go out”.
The legendary summers looked like shipwrecked boats; they couldn’t set sail because they were too damaged, nor could they reach the shore and start all over again clean. I equipped myself with artifacts, some long existing objects, humble in their existence, easy in their use. Technology has altered them but it didn’t taint their soul. They seemed to have been always there, on that remote planet, as a way of expression and their purpose was to create worlds that we’d probably never visit.
“Yellow Balloon”, Athens 2016
A family of sorts, Vilnius 2016
At first it was a pen and a paper, then a typewriter and later a laptop. Despite its technological evolution, the soul of the written word did not change and there will always be someone willing to lock his body -but not his spirit- into a silent room and start writing. Respectively, at first there was a smartphone, then a compact camera and later a bigger one. Contrary to the ancient belief, images do not consist of a thousand words; they consist of all the words we were not able to write.
“Wrinkles and movies”, Bologna 2016
“Far Away”, Berlin 2017
I can never afford to lose people, but when I started dealing with absence it seemed to me that there was only one way back: the narrative. Through writing I felt I could re-visit, through photography I felt I could re-see. The return to childhood has nothing heroic in its heart and I could never identify with Proustian moments. It was simply that old longing for simplicity sending me to the white paper or the black film.
The white paper and the black film are always an interpretation of a narrative that fails to be resonated: words that fail to be written deliver always a white paper, while photos that fail to be taken deliver always a black image. The eternal battle of the two irreconcilable colors is not only a clash between light and darkness but also the inability of self-expression on a given day. If the creative adult is indeed a child who has survived, one can only imagine how painful a white paper or a black film really feels.
“No man’s land”, Berlin 2017
“The Letter”, Athens 2017
I can’t recall most of the faces of these old summers. They seem to be lost in a sea of oblivion and they are only allowed to emerge for an instant every now and then. Nowadays I spend less time in front of the sea and I am not that spontaneous anymore. I’m spending most of my days in big cities, where History adds an extra weight on the already long faces of the Europeans. Sunny days are good for the body, but only the cloudy ones make me feel really productive. I’d wake up rather early and I’d write until noon; then, I’d take my camera in hand and go out.
The city is crowded and I’m searching for dark corners, spots where the contrasts are magnified. I’m standing there for twenty, maybe thirty minutes. I’m waiting for a face to appear from the darkness, somebody that will remind me of the people I used to know: faces from past summers, lost loves, absent friends, people I rarely see. Some days no one appears, but I live for the day that a familiar face will emerge from the darkness. This is a re-connection of sorts, a short return to the simplicity of childhood: a person, an expression, a scene. The memory is finally serving its purpose, which is to remind us who we really are: we are nothing more than a patchwork of all the people we ever met. For a dense moment I feel like being in front of the sea on a warm summer afternoon. I am extremely young again, I am revolted against oblivion and I’m fishing in the abyss.
George Pavlopoulos is the author of three novels. He has also written several travelogues and short stories. You can see more of his work on his Website as well as on Instagram.
“Only the inventors survive”, Athens 2016
“The journey of sand”, Bologna 2016
“The man who could not dream”, Berlin 2017
Kings in water, Budapest 2015
“Ghosts”, Athens 2016
“Early summer”, Athens 2016
“Christmas”, Berlin 2016
Towards the future, Berlin 2017