Free Dive: Kanoa Zimmerman's Underwater Photographs
In his series Free Dive, on view at Casemore Gallery, Kanoa Zimmerman creates underwater images that drop viewers into a dreamlike immersive experience—not otherworldly, but a version of our world, rendered literally and figuratively liminal—where the sun-filled sky bottoms into the surface of the ocean and the two co-mingle, tangling within a brief alignment of time and depth, refractions of light and form creating new perceptions. "Light behaves differently underwater. It bends and slows down, giving rise to optical phenomena," observes Zimmerman. "Our movements and heart rate also slow, our bodies suspended as if weightless. Without the normal metronome of breathing, time seems to stretch."
Zimmerman forgoes digital, opting to use black-and-white film that imbues his images of this ephemeral environment with enriched definition and tangibility. As he explains, "Where film lacks in detail or information, it also allows room to infer," allowing the images to be released from the familiar frameworks of the surface. Free divers from locations as diverse as Texas and Fiji are outfitted with snorkels and fins and armed with spearguns, their bodies rendered long and lithe as they swim, in isolation or among their prey. In one, a diver trails a line of flashers to attract fish; in another, a diver appears upright, his legs kicking and the silhouettes of his fins crossing each other, making him appear both still and moving within an absence of environment, save the top-to-bottom gradation of light to darkness. Images free of human presence offer haunting examples of the “optical phenomena” presented by the interplay of light and shadow above and below the surface.
Casemore Gallery’s back room presents Zimmerman’s images of bodysurfers, some with underwater videographers capturing their movements. In these images, stillness is gone, replaced with the violent whorls and collapsing rolls of ocean water in its final rush to shore. Orientation becomes more difficult to determine as waves curl and cut, and the divers’ bring their bodies into a physical, almost ecstatic harmony with the water’s movement.
Kanoa Zimmerman’s work explores the underwater ocean environment, our interaction with it, and its illusionary effects on our perceptions. As a child, he was exposed early to snorkeling, a favored activity shared with his parents in Hawai’i. The family also spent time in Iowa studying and practicing meditation, which enriched his understanding of and experiences with free diving. As Kanoa says, "I've had overlapping experiences with free diving and meditation. The repetition of breathing and diving has a calming effect. There is a dreamlike quality to being underwater, a feeling of being removed from yourself."
Free Dive and Bodysurfers is a collaborative exhibition by Casemore Gallery and Small Works.