Art & Culture
The Art of Photographer Alice Bochňáková
The artist on how she developed her dreamlike photographic style
It resembles a battle scene from early Renaissance paintings you might’ve seen in galleries. A man, clad in Roman attire and face twisted in a rageful yell, thrusts a sword forward against two oncoming assailants. On his arm is a young girl in white, whose innocent expression is cast away from the oncoming violence. This isn’t a painting at all. It’s a photograph, the surreal atmosphere captured underwater by Alice Bochňáková.
For the past 15 years, Bochňáková has been perfecting this unique photography method of submerging her subjects in water. What started as a hobby has earned her international acclaim. She’s had exhibitions all over Europe and her work earned her the award of Qualified European Photographer, a prestigious accolade given by the Federation of European Photographers.
As an avid scuba diver, Bochňáková first got the idea for her underwater photography while diving on vacation. She noticed a girl with long hair near the surface of the water and was inspired by the way sunbeams cut through the water and illuminated her.
“I said to myself, I must try to do it,” she says.
She began experimenting in her indoor swimming pool, which doubles as a scuba diving classroom. Using her daughters and friends as models, she practiced manipulating the lighting, background and other elements to create mystical scenes that looked torn from the pages of fairy tales.
Her work went through many iterations until she perfected her technique. For example she “tried shooting without bubbles,” she says, “but many people didn’t believe that the photos were underwater.”
After filling up disks with thousands of photos, she eventually decided to show a friend her work. He liked it so much he decided to arrange an exhibition for her. Since then, her underwater portraits and scenes have been shown in exhibitions throughout Europe and she’s collaborated with many artists and commercial organizations.
The preparation for each photoshoot is intense and takes hours, which is why Bochňáková is currently focusing on shooting rather than organizing another exhibition. She often works morning to evening just to prepare one shot.
The shoots require good communication with her subjects. Costuming is often weighted in order to control its flowing appearance, which can make it hard for the models when they need to breathe, so communicating is key. Her daughter Bety remembers one shoot where the dress she wore was so heavy it was hard to get up to the surface. Bochňáková herself usually wears her scuba mask when she’s shooting.
Her method is so unique that Bochňáková hosts workshops for friends and artists demonstrating how she achieves this dreamlike effect. “My husband often asks me why I don’t recreate the effect in production,” she says. The final product shows that it wouldn’t be the same.
Bochňáková is always open to collaboration. The warrior photography mentioned above was a joint effort with the National Theatre, who provided the costuming. Just recently, she wrapped up a project with graphic artist Anna Milerová that looks at humanizing the immense amount of plastic floating in our oceans. To do this, they submerged girls surrounded by plastic waste, evoking imagery of animals trapped in these drifting islands of garbage. The photographs are currently in processing.
For Bochňáková, the true beauty of photography is about the preservation of memory. When she began shooting on her first Olympus film camera when she was 16, it was so she could connect to certain moments. Even now, that sentimentality is present in her work. Her portfolio shows couples in loving embraces, soon-to-be parents in the last trimester of pregnancy and mothers embracing their young children, all frozen as if in magical suspension.
To find out more about Alice’s work, visit her website here.