Artist Interviews 2021

Eryn Brydon  
By Julia Annabel Siedenburg

Eryn Brydon, with her Studio OceanInk Studios, is a very talented photographer that specializes mostly in beautiful fairytale-like underwater photography. Most of her subjects turn out to be real-life mermaid/men (enthusiasts). She is a very dear friend that I extremely admire for her unique ideas and great visual eye. In this interview we talked about her background and what drew her to what she does so damn well.

Underwater photography is something we do not see so often, and especially not photos that are as dreamy and magical as yours. Where does your inspiration come from? Especially in regards of the mermaid pieces?

First off I’d like to thank you for your kind words about my photography. Most of my inspiration comes from what’s in front of my lens. Often times that happens to be Underwater, especially as of late in the ocean. So you could say the Ocean itself gives me quite a lot of inspiration. I try very much to play off of what my subject does naturally and then guide them in ways that I feel will compliment the images we are creating together. I’m a strong believer that portrait photography, and especially that of the underwater variety is very much a collaboration between myself and the subject I am photographing. It’s very much a team effort.

When I’m photographing my Mermaid Clients during my “Catalina Experience” out in the waters off Catalina Island in California, there are several things that really inspire and fuel my inspiration. One is their passion and love for the ocean, which often matches mine. One of the things that bring me the greatest joy when photographing my Mermaids is how the experience has transformed them and some have even said it has been one of the highlight moments of their life and a dream come true. It is the greatest honor and privilege to be able to offer this one of a kind experience for these passion sea bound souls, like myself. The second biggest inspiration for me is color and light! And they don’t get much better than out off the coast of Catalina Island!

How do you choose subjects and what are the requirements for them to be able to shoot with you?

My clients usually choose me, with the help of my fantastic organizer Mermaid Kairi! She or I may reach out to potential Mermaids that I think would be a good fit for an experience out in open ocean in their mermaid tails. However those who see the photos and want to experience Catalina with me and my Camera have been reaching out to find out how and when they can shoot with me. Most of these wonderful merfolk that I have shot with are quite experienced swimmers who have been swimming in tail for quite a long time. However as long as you are comfortable and a confident swimmer in open water I absolutely welcome anyone who wants to shoot out in Catalina water with me during my shooting trips, though if you want to shoot in a tail you’ll need to have lots of practice in a pool first! When I am shooting in a more controlled setting like a pool I welcome anyone who is curious about shooting underwater to book a session with me! All that I require is a little trust and willingness to try something that may feel a little foreign at first, but once you experience it opens up a whole new world of positivity about your personal connection with water.

I briefly touched on light earlier and how it is one of my inspirations. That very much applies to this question. The way light travels through water fascinates me. I love playing with light when I’m shooting in the pool, I normally use on and off camera underwater strobe lights, but the natural light especially fascinates me in the ocean and kelp beds of Catalina and the Channel Islands here in California. Lastly the color palates I get to work with underwater are very unique! That’s somewhat tied in with light and how it travels into and through the water.

Tell us a bit about your upbringing and background. How did you find your way to arts and underwater photography?

Another awesome, yet super loaded question, I’m happy to answer though. I like to think I WAS a mermaid or pirate in a past life, though I guess my actual upbringing isn’t really that far off! I was born in Long Beach CA and spent the first few years of my existence surrounded by water. Weather it was being walked in a stroller through the canals of Naples, spending time with my dad and his good friend on their sailboat (which I imagine we took out to Catalina now and again) or learning to swim at a very early age, I definitely was groomed to be a water baby! (My mother would tell you that I resisted heavily at first! But it was her intense fear of water that lead her to make sure I was not afraid! Thanks Mom!) My Dad’s side of the family is from Scotland and England and they used to be ship builders, one of whom owned quite a large sailing ship if I am correct in my history. So you really could say the ocean runs through my veins and in my lineage! I discovered underwater photography during a short-lived attempt to root myself in Hawaii, and realized I really needed to earn a degree doing what I loved, photography. So I hauled myself back to the mainland and enrolled at Brooks Institute, which was one of the only schools in the world to have a pretty solid history with underwater photography thanks to Ernie Brooks himself, an avid scuba diver and owner of the Just Love boat. I took the class as soon as I was able, and my world was illuminated. We were incredibly lucky to get to spend 5 whole days aboard a live-a-board vessel out at Catalina Island thanks to the amazing efforts of the current class’ professor Ralph Clevenger. With his passion, enthusiasm and guidance my passion for shooting underwater was blown wide open, so much so that since the closing of Brooks and the retirement of professor Clevenger he graciously encouraged my desire to continue on the legacy that Brooks offered for over 40+ years through building my own Underwater curriculum, which with any luck will also include a live a board trip to Catalina Island, based off what he and Ernie built at Brooks Institute

How did you get to the name OceanInk Studios and what is part of that?

I toyed with several options for quite some time and settled on two different names because I just couldn’t decide between the two! OceanINK Studios is my overall studio name, which encompasses mostly my above water and fine art work, while I have a sub branch for just my Underwater Work called a Lens Aquatic. The later being a play on the movie title A Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (one of my favorite movies) Directed by Wes Anderson. OceanINK is also somewhat of play on words. The Ocean part felt very much appropriate as it is one of the main inspirations for a lot of my work. Photographers essentially draw with light which if you think about it could be very much the same a how an artist paints or draws with Ink. I liked how it sounded when I put the two words together and it felt as if it really fit my work.

INK represents creativity for a broad audience and it also felt appropriate to represent that my work is very creatively driven. Plus one of my favorite sea creatures is the Cephalopod (octopus and squid if you’re unfamiliar with the scientific terminology) and they use Ink as a means of defense, so I thought that reference was also pretty neat. I really wanted to have a brand name that I could carry on with multiple avenues for my visual creativity, so Studios felt more appropriate for me than just photography

Did you have to change in the way you work due to the current situation? Did it affect your future? What’s next for you?

While I know many small business owners and creatives have suffered greatly during this difficult time, at first I really felt I would to, how ever I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to have created something I honestly am not sure I would have had it not been for the challenges faced during this pandemic. I really stopped and thought about what I really wanted from this short life and diving and the ocean screamed out to me incessantly and I answered the call. And in the process met some fantastic people over at Sundiver International in Long Beach CA who opened up the opportunity for me to create what I can only describe as my own dream come true, “The Catalina Experience” was born in a time when The idea that life really is priceless and we must make the most of it while we can. Wing in the water and out on the ocean in an open-air dive boat really was one of the safest places I could work during a time like the ones were facing now. And it offered a much needed escape for both me and my clients whom I was photographing.

Overall I didn’t have to change too much, the nature of my work being underwater weather in the ocean or a heated chlorinated pool allowed me to safely continue to work with a few minor modifications while out of the water such as masks before and after exiting the water. I guess I’m one of the lucky few that can say my opportunities actually grew because of the pandemic. I shifted some goals and refocused what I really wanted out of my business and found that there is a group of people out there that are looking for this thing that I can offer them, this experience that, after being denied experience for an extended amounts of time, could reignite the passion and creative spirit with in both myself and those that I get to photograph.

While I will continue to Grow and expand “The Catalina Experience” season after season, my immediate future holds something else very near and dear to my creative heart. It is called “The Ether Experience” and is my Culminating Thesis Project for my MFA Degree at Mount Saint Mary’s University. Over the next 7 months I will be filming, creating photographic works, designing and building interactive sets and creating narrative sound scapes to create an Installation experience that will take you on a journey through the creation story of dystopian Creature Y, a human sea creature hybrid designed to help humanity understand our limits of living in a rapidly decaying ocean because we’ve pushed all other means of survival to its limits and the Ocean is all we’ve got left. Let’s just say it’s Frankenstein meets the creature from the black lagoon! With a lot of existential life crisis thrown into the mix! There will be opportunities for the viewer to become immersed in Creature Y’s world, through interactive movie elements, an interactive operating table with bioluminescent elements, elements of water play, becoming the “mad scientist” to create your own Creature Y and most importantly the opportunity for the interactee to contemplate their personal connection with the ocean itself. To follow updates and Information regarding the “Ether Experience” visit and follow @lostin.thether on Instagram.

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