Interview with Resource Magazine:
RESOURCE: Somewhere along the way, you apparently became interested in underwater photography… Can you tell me how that happened?
MICHAEL: I’ve always had a love and respect for water, everything about it, from gorgeous and exotic beaches, to the smell of rain, and of course the allure of the sea. Growing up, I studied Martial Arts for 10 years, and then when I read a quote from Bruce Lee, it gave profound reinforcement to my fascination.. “be like water”, he said, because water always knows what to do, and where to go. It adapts and survives everything, it gives life, yet it also can take it away.
On my Honeymoon in Croatia in 2010, my wife’s friend from her youth, who is a scuba instructor and underwater nature and wildlife photographer, introduced me to underwater photography. She took us to an ancient shipwreck off the coast of the Omis, Croatia where my wife, Viktorija, grew up. The depth was only around 10 feet or so, so we could easily hold our breath and get to the bottom with the help of a weight belt. The surface of the water that day was very choppy, yet when you got underwater it was quite calm and serene. It was there, standing on the bottom of the sea in the crystal clear waters of the Dalmatian Coast, a place where the human body is not supposed to be, with schools of fish swimming around me that I became obsessed with taking my personal style of photography to the underwater world and making it a reality.
Photographing for intentional results underwater can be very challenging, but the imagery you can achieve is unmistakable and well executed underwater fashion photography is beyond inspiring to say the least.
RESOURCE: You’re also fortunate enough to form a “husband and wife team,” with Viktorija… How did that come about?
MICHAEL: Viktorija and I started our careers independently, but we met early on and developed our skills, talents, and vision together. Creating images and all sorts of things together has been the underlying theme of our relationship and is one of our life’s joy. One main goal of ours is to always better ourselves, personally and professionally, so we have the respect and ability to be more honest with each other about our shoots and what we would like to achieve, or what we can improve on in the future, perhaps more so than other creative partners.
Having been born on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, Viktorija has always had a love for water too, but it’s more me that had the desire to explore underwater as an environment for photography, though we are excited to work together on anything, the thrill of water work is an extra bonus.
Our love for water has manifested in other ways in our lives too. We even got married on a yacht in the New York harbor, it was amazing!
I truly believe that opportunities present themselves when you present your best loves to the world.. We both love Cirque du Soleil (which she introduced me to), and through the good vibe of the world we werepresented with the opportunity to photograph with Cirque Du Soleil for a fashion editorial with the cast of Amaluna, a water based show that celebrats the power of women. It was an amazing shoot and experience, and I feel fortunate to still be in contact with some of the cast from the show who we photographed with..
RESOURCE: Did you ever encounter any dangerous situations, for example with models getting out of breath, or how do you avoid dangerous situations?
(side question: do you always use an oxygen mask?)
MICHAEL: When photographing underwater, safety is the utmost importance. Many things have the potential to go wrong or not as planned on any shoot, and working underwater raises the level of things to be prepared for. On my first shoot, I had a scare for myself, when in a moment of exhaustion, I almost couldn’t get back up to the surface when I needed to breathe. I was in only about 4 feet of water but was practically laying down on my back on the bottom and I had weights on my arms, as I hadn’t known fully yet the best places to wear weights. I didn’t realize how tired I was, but couldn’t get my footing to get up.. I had a minor panic moment, but quickly realized i needed to calm down and just roll over to get feet and legs under me.. So having experienced that myself, I always make sure that the models and crew are safe and explain everything to them first about the shoot requirements and about safety aspects of working underwater.
I don’t always use compressed air to breathe when I shoot. It really does help, but if not everyone is using air, it can potentially be a little bit of a communication barrier between the photographer and model(s).. If I am the only one who has air, I still like to start out the day wth the models doing breathing exercises for them to get the hang of controlling their heartbeats and breathing to keep them relaxed.. It can be exhausting work and confusing at times too, so communication is really important.
MICHAEL: I’m super in love with the “Snowdrop” series that I’ve just finished up with it. I had a vision of depicting SnowDrop (which is the original title of what became known as Snow White) while she was unconscious in the forest after being poisoned. I’ve wanted to begin incorporating my underwater photography into our Story-Tellers project, so what better way to show a person in suspended animation then to be floating underwater.
I also really love the “Breath from Another” series, a story of lovers who depend on each other to share their breath of life.. I enjoy working with multiple people, capturing their interactions or tensions between them. I definitely want to shoot more multiple people underwater in the future.
RESOURCE: (this relates to my previous question) You call “The Story-Tellers” on your website “a very special project by the husband and wife team.” What makes it so special?
MICHAEL: This project is special for many different reasons. The first one is for our daughter who is 2 1/2 years old. She has brought so many wonderful things to our lives so projects like this take on new meanings and understandings.
Viktorija, having grown up in Eastern Europe, was raised with a respect and teachings of fairytales and folklore that isn’t really taught too much here in the US anymore. She was shaped by Hans Christian Andersen stories and various Grimm fairy tales, among other local folklore. She had a fairy tale book growing up called “Najljepse bajke svijeta” (which means, The worlds most beautiful fairy tales) and loved to be read stories from her mother at bedtime. She fondly remembers always asking for “one more” story.. Unfortunately, During the war in former Yugoslavia, that precious book was lost and she always had a dream of creating her own book as an homage to her childhood and others who grew up with fairy tales and legends as learning tools.. the Project has grown to encompass more than just that, and has is taking a life of its own..
The project is our way to interpreting fairly tales and folklore in ways that visually speak to us and ways that we would love to see.
Our lives in the industry has always been about telling stories through photography either in the realm of fashion or beauty, or commercially in advertising, and this project allows us to approach image making from a more artistic side of the craft. Although we still love to incorporate fashion and the other industry specialties that we have access to.
This project is also very much about collaboration of artists and creative minds. We have it titled “the Story-Tellers” yet its more about everyone involved in each image as being the people who are telling the stories, the stylists, the clothing designers, costume designers, models, etc… We all share our experiences and talents in making each shot as amazing as our imaginations will take us. We also hope to gain sponsorship for the project and team up with children’s charities or other like-minded organizations to help take the project to the next level.
RESOURCE: Can you elaborate which stories you are trying to depict in your “The Story-Tellers” project, the stories you say that have shaped your lives?
MICHAEL: As the concept of the project is not strictly stories that have been previously written or documented, the first image we did is a vision of Viktorija’s which she called “Rush”. She wanted to portray what it felt like when you have been emotionally frozen for a long period of time, and something or someone comes along to help bring those inner butterflies back to life, and bring color back into your world.
Another one of her concepts we brought to life is called “When I grow up”, which is the dreams of a little girl who sees herself breaking free from her cage that holds her and flying free with the birds among the vibrant colors of her new and future world.
The very latest image I finished is a concept I photographed with our daughter, titled “Rising Tide”. A friend in Croatia who is also a photographer asked if i would participate in an upcoming show of his for National Geographic, where photographers he knows around the world would contribute an image to a projection wall installation that pertain to his overall show. The images all show a person with a finger to their lips, to say “shhh”, and is a comment and contemplation on Global Warming for an Earth Day event. I immediately knew I wanted to use our daughter as the subject to represent youth and the future of the planet, as well as a composition of NYC buildings with the tide rising around her.. It was great to photograph her as well as the city and perfect for our project with such an important and relevant message behind it.
RESOURCE: Which projects or stories or shoots are still on your to-do list?
MICHAEL: We have a lot more shots and concepts that we want to explore.
I had the fortune of being contacted by a model who was visiting New York from Tanzania. I wanted to bring in stories from the whole world instead of just what we are familiar with, so this was a great opportunity for us. We chatted a lot about women’s role in their society among many other things, and we have a great series coming depicting the strength of the Tanzanian woman and women in general in our changing advancing world. Tanzania is certainly on my list of places to visit soon!
There is also the story of Vasilisa, a Russian Fairy tale that were are prepping to shoot soon, too.
RESOURCE: How important is post-processing in your photography?
MICHAEL: Post-processing can be a big part of some of the images from the project, but it just depends on what the vision is for the final image. I’m not opposed to composition work and even enjoy the aspect of the images being a new “multi-media” endeavor, but I do try to get most of “the shot” in camera when ever possible.. For example, the image of “When i Grow up” is photographed all in camera. For that image, we collaborated with the amazing costume designer, Miodrag Guberinic, who designed the headpiece (as well as created the butterflies for “Rush” ), and Viktorija painted the watercolor background, then created the makeup to feel the same as the paintings as if she was painted too.
I do however have a lot of ideas that have to be done as composites, as it’s impossible to do otherwise or without a Million dollar budget.
“Snowdrop” (which was partly a collaboration with the New York Fashion designer Morgane Le Fay), took a bit of time to do from concept to finish. I photographed the forest during December two winters ago and then had to wait to do the underwater part of it until it was warm this past late summer. I did have tree branches in the water for the closer shot, but then as the editing process progressed, my vision for the shot concept became much more than originally planned, so more post-processing than originally thought went into that one as well.
We have another image series coming which we photographed in Venice while on a Fashion shoot. It will also become a composite shot with adding other elements needed to make it convey what I have in mind, being that we really couldn’t close down Saint Marks Square for a few days, but that would have truly been amazing to do and would have had stories of its own!