This is the incredible story of how the world’s first large format, underwater Polaroid photo shoot was accomplished, capturing stunning images of a beautiful women surrounded by tropical marine life. The Regnard brothers, Ian and Erick, shot Polaroid pictures in South Pacific waters so clear that visibility was up to 60 meters.
The images below, titled “Cocoon”, with the model surrounded by Manta rays, was shot in the lagoon of Moorea island, near Tahiti; other images were shot off the coast of the remote island of Niue in the middle of the South Pacific, not far from Samoa. In 2010 one of the images, “Waiting in Silence,” won International Photo Awards (IPA) in the “special category.”
Born in Mauritius, a volcanic island in the Indian Ocean, twin brothers Ian and Erick Regnard migrated to Australia in 1983. Living on the ocean as children the boys were influenced deeply by the world of Jacques Cousteau. They have been fascinated with surfing and photography since they were fifteen years old.
In 1992 Erick was invited to photograph the first surfing contest since WWII in Vietnam. Following that event Erick has travelled to numerous places to make photographs - such as Madagascar, Indonesia, Tahiti, Cuba, Hawaii, France, South Africa, Reunion Island, and Mauritius. Today, with credits for more than forty international magazine covers under their belts, Ian and Erick are the senior photographers for the Australian surfing bible Tracks Magazine; they submit their work to more than twenty-five magazines worldwide.
Follow Ian and Eric Regnard on their Instagram account and view more of the Regnards’ photography on their website: www.ianerickregnard.com! A full set of images & limited edition prints are available here!
Tell us how you came up with idea of shooting large format Polaroids underwater?
In 2005 a friend suggested we go to this island to shoot underwater where you can see 60-100 meters underwater. So although it sounded crazy, we decided to get maybe a girl naked swimming underwater and shooting it on large format film. Little did we know this had never been done before!
The first leg of our journey was to photograph stingrays underwater for testing the camera - which is part of another exhibition called "A Thousand Kisses Deep" - and the second leg saw us going to the island of Niue in the South Pacific. The water is so clear but yet so deep. Whales travel these waters but unfortunately we didn’t see any while we were there! These images convey the emotion of grandness, the feeling with the sea. We could hear sounds underwater... maybe they were whales? Maybe we were being watched? They swim and flow through the water feeling vulnerable but yet so free! We had a sense almost that we wanted to be away from it all… in silence.
How do you use these films underwater?
With the medium format film it was simple to get a housing for the camera, but with the large 4×5 film it was a bit more difficult. We had to modify the camera and get an underwater housing custom-built for it. With the help of the technicians at Camera Electronics of Perth, Australia, we stripped a 4×5 Linhoff Technica camera and rebuilt it to do the job. With the underwater housing the camera apparatus became so big that it needed a 15 kilogram dive belt to make it sink.
The camera can only shoot one photo at a time, so after each shot was taken you needed to go back to the boat to take out the Polaroid film and replace it with a new one. So this takes a lot of patience to get the right shot and time to reload the film.
How did you manage to focus your cameras underwater?
It was very difficult because of the refraction difference shooting underwater. We did a few shot with a gigantic ruler and took photos at different measurements on the lens. Then we compared the distance on the lens to the distance focused on the ruler, and therefore established a table of distances to shoot. Then when it came time to shoot the model, she was given a tape measure that was fixed on my weight belt and she would go out to 3 metres and the lens was set prior for that distance underwater. I would then reel the tape and we would then go down together, with me trying to keep the same distance at all times and with her doing what she would do best… posing.
What is it that appeals to you about Polaroid and instant film?
Polaroid is a great format! It’s an instant print that you receive straight from the camera. It’s quirky and the colours are very unique. At the time we shot these pictures we had just discovered black and white, large format Polaroid film, which gives unbelievable tones. Unfortunately now it has been discontinued. Also, medium format film has great resolution and I love that square format. Also the idea of shooting film is to slow things down, to think and then shoot!
How will you deal with the loss of Polaroid as an artistic medium?
I’ve read that The Impossible Project is working on 4x5 Polaroid film, but TIP film hasn’t been the same as the original, so I’m not sure what type of tone these will have... but that would be great. [Note: The New55 project is creating a fresh version of the classic Polaroid Type 55 film.] It has been very sad to see such an amazing film like Polaroid disappear. Last time I checked I could not find any PN55, and the 8x10 is selling for almost $1000 a box last time I checked.
What types of instant film cameras do you own? Which one is your favorite and why?
We only have a Polaroid 360 land camera for pack films; we also use type 55 Polaroid film with Polaroid backs on large format view cameras.
Do you have any instant photographers that inspire you?
Yes, we've always loved the amazing work of Paolo Roversi.
What upcoming projects are you working on?
We have been doing some portraits, with the rest of the film, of girls topless, a raw look, and we will try to do some pool work in Bali for a future exhibition. In addition, for the past six years we’ve been working on a book project. It is a book of black and white portraits of all the local surfers who have controlled the surf break on the North Shore of Hawaii... from the Da Huie surfer group to the more recent Wolf Packs, called the "Bad Boys of Hawaii." The book is titled “Locals Only,” all shot on medium format film and PN55.