Under the Sea

The exploration of relationships brought to life by the photographs and poetry of Thanh Nguyen


Enchanting, romantic and beautifully painful are all words that come to mind when describing the Legendes Aquatiques and Le Meteore underwater photo series. Photographer Thanh Nguyen entwines distinctly human emotions with the ethereal: capturing fluid, yet almost mundane, otherworldly movement to create the sense that the subject has walked straight from their mundane, everyday life into an enchanted dream.


Not content with just the one string to his bow, Thanh is also a budding poet. He often explores the interplay between poetry and photography, whimsically describing how “language is a beautiful gift from Mother Nature.” Linking poetry and photography together helps him “understand the big picture.” The two collections are inextricably entwined dealing with harmony and the unseen events that shatter it in different ways.


The poetry that Thanh has written to accompany the series help further instil this juxtaposition:
I saw comets leaving after the ballet of stars
I saw planets stop turning just after summer
I saw the sun lying to the Moon
But I did not see the meteor

The bare emotion of relationships is clear in both black and white series: the subject of each photograph is nude, their hair at the mercy of the waters around them yet their bodies free of earth’s gravity. They appear to be both freed and imprisoned: which is, at its core, the real truth of all our relationships.


We caught up with Nguyen to find out more:

The Plus: How did you start underwater photograhpy?
Thanh Nguyen:
I’m a self-taught, optimistic photographer and my first underwater session came about purely by luck. I was having dinner at my friend Jef’s house in the summer, along with another photographer who I had just met that evening. I was explaining the new photography equipment I had just bought and Jef asked if I wanted to take some photos in his swimming pool – Amandine agreed to be the model – and my underwater series was born. So there is the secret behind my pictures: they were taken at midnight, in a pool, with only one spotlight with which to illuminate them. The next evening I went back to take more.


TP: Why do you write poems to accompany your series?
Language is a beautiful gift from Mother Nature. I can’t sing or play guitar but I can draw, write and take photographs. I like to combine pictures and words to tell stories.

TP: You shoot nude portraits a lot, is there any other area of photography you want to explore?
I love portrait but I also like landscapes. I’m convinced that stories can be told if we can capture a light, a place, a mood – like my Paysages series.

TP: What attracted you the most when shooting in water?
I feel connected to nature, and water is an astonishing material. It means a lot, it offers a lot.