Nicole Cudzilo | Underwater
Nicole is a 26 year old photographer and makeup artist from Connecticut. She works primarily with film and her favorite cameras are her Nikonos V, Hasselblad 500cm and her various Polaroids. She studied photography in high school under professional photographer Laurie Klein - student of the great Ansel Adams, and later studied math and environmental science in college. Nicole is a brand new resident of Lincoln, Nebraska and is a huge fan of her Shiba Inu named Gracie Rose, road tripping and camping. She would one day love to own a hippie van for endless photo adventuring.
How did you first hear about the Nikonos Project?
I distinctly remember when I first discovered Nikonos cameras, and then the Nikonos Project. I was browsing online and stumbled across a blog post from a Connecticut photographer who had shared photos of her children playing in the water. Taken in beautiful summertime light, I remember the images having a rich character and grain to them, and upon reading further, she talked about her love of shooting with a Nikonos V. I looked up the camera and found the Nikonos Project website and spent the rest of the evening reading through every single blog post and pouring over the instagram feed. I knew this idea was something I wanted to be part of, but didn’t want to wait to get on the official loan list. So the next day I went on Ebay and found a guy in Hawaii that was selling a Nikonos V with a 35mm lens, the SB-105 flash and a Pelican case for a great deal. I got a fresh set of o-rings with grease and was ready to go!
What was your first time like shooting underwater?
Sadly, my first time shooting underwater with the Nikonos was a complete failure. I wanted to do a practice run before I shot an actual project with it, so I had some friends meet me at a lake. Unfortunately the lake water was far from pristine as it hosted an excessive amount of summer boating activity. The water was clouded with silt that had been churned up from all of the motors, and I could barely see my own hands with goggles on. We had no backup plan, so I experimented and shot half the roll with flash and half without. After I got the scans back, I had 36 images of fuzzy green/brown murk. I learned pretty fast that having clear(ish) water is fairly essential for getting any sort of shot, but it just made me want to experiment more.
What is one of your favorite places to bring your Nikonos?
I think my favorite outdoor location to take my Nikonos is to the Delaware River in Layton, New Jersey. It’s a sleepy little spot nestled within the Delaware Water Gap and it’s home to an amazing craft school called ‘Peters Valley School of Craft’. I’ve been going there every summer for the past 7 years to assist with photography workshops, and most of the evenings end up being spent in the river with friends. The area holds some heavy local history, so shooting film in that sort of environment has a special connection and nostalgia to me, almost as if I’m honoring the valley’s past by stepping back in time with my process.
What is your favorite part about shooting underwater?
For me, the best part about shooting underwater is the feeling of complete removal from space and time. When fully submerged I feel like I’m suspended in some sort of alternate reality, an aqueous vacuum where everything superfluous just comes to a halt. I often shoot after dark, so the combination of being underwater and in complete darkness feels otherworldly yet extremely natural to me. It’s sensory depriving in an almost meditative way. You’ve lost sight, breath and conventional gravity, and it almost forces you to become hyper-aware of your energy and the way the water moves along your skin. The sound and sensation of being suspended never gets old, it’s something that still awes me after all this time.
How would you describe the style and direction of your work?
The work that I am most proud of making with my Nikonos is my underwater figures series. It’s been described as quiet, ethereal, soft and feminine. I enjoy shooting after dark so that the background fades to shadow and removes all sense of place and environment. I’m interested in creating a narrative within images and I’ve chosen dreamy color palettes, soft focus and tight cropping as some of the elements to tie the photos together.
What are your tips for people that want to try shooting in this style?
My biggest tip for trying out this style is to find a friend/model who is extremely comfortable in the water! If your subject can’t stay underwater for more than a few seconds you’re going to have a problem. It’s hard to look natural underwater in general, not to mention that they’re probably cold and draped in some sort of flowy cloth that makes it difficult to move. So find a strong swimmer that is comfortable holding their breath and you’ll be on the right track. I like to start shooting about a half hour before the sun goes down so I can get varying levels of sunlight and duskiness before it goes dark completely. A light source is essential at night, I’ve used the SB-105 on TTL as well as on it’s three power settings. I’m also interested in trying a constant light source and will probably pick up a dive light at some point. Using the pool lights for back light or fill can also give some interesting effects, I like to experiment with lighting because I feel like it’s an area where you can get super creative. Settings wise I normally shoot around f8 to be safe (I can hardly ever see to focus) and I wouldn’t choose anything lower than 400 ISO. I think the best tip would be to experiment while keeping notes so that when you get the scans back you can see what did and didn’t work.
I chose to pursue this series with film because I think an analog process lends itself well to the serenity of being underwater. It’s so much slower for me and I’m forced to truly be present in the whole experience instead of breaking out of the flow to check the back of my camera a hundred times. It’s feels simple and pure, there are no fancy housings, I don't change out lenses and I’m not worried about an image being technically perfect or crisp.
What are your future goals with film and the Nikonos?
Future goals with my film journey and my underwater work include starting to process my negatives, try my hand at scanning and just make more time to shoot! I’ve signed up for some courses at a local community college and they have a full color darkroom as well as black and white, alt process and wet plate classes! I’m looking forward to learning more about technique and having my hand involved in the whole process from start to finish, so the future seems pretty exciting to me!