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The breath-taking alien world of plastic bags under the sea

By Steven Brocklehurst
BBC Scotland News

Published
image captionBroken-up plastic bags in one of Janeanne's images called Empty

At first glance freediver Janeanne Gilchrist's photographs appear to show "alien" underwater creatures but closer inspection reveals something far less mythical.

The images, taken while the Scottish photographer was holding her breath up to 45ft (15m) beneath the surface, include a disintegrating plastic bag, a discarded sou'wester and the tangle of fishermen's rope.

Janeanne, who describes herself as an artist and image maker, rather than a photographer, says her work is a bit like a psychological Rorschach test where what you see depends on your state of mind at the time.

image captionA discarded fisherman's sou'wester

The Edinburgh artist, who has been diving without breathing equipment for 15 years, says her images are "completely unique" and cannot be reproduced.

She says: "I am trying to capture something that's never going to be in the same location, same light, same position, ever again."

"Capturing these moments while freediving in challenging conditions in the waters around Scotland isn't easy.

"The current is playing with them and with me, the entire time."

image captionA fisherman's rope captured for Semantic Memory

Freediving is taking one breath and holding it underneath the water. There is no oxygen tank, although a good wetsuit is a necessity in the waters of the east coast of Scotland.

Janeanne says: "We don't do it naked in this country, I'm afraid, we have to have a wetsuit on so we can keep warm."

She says she has trained to be a freediver but taking photos while holding your breath adds an extra layer of complexity.

image captionA tangle of fishing net is the subject of Janeanne's photograph Structuralism

Janeanne says: "I have to get to the place, to compose the shot, to manoeuvre myself around it, to get what I need and come back up, all the time focussing on how much air I have got in my body."

She dives with her partner at sites all around Scotland and says St Abbs head, off the Berwickshire coast, is a favourite spot.

image captionSpawning seaweed is the subject of the image Multicellular

The couple dive for more than four hours at a time and have made numerous trips in order to capture the photos being displayed in the new exhibition at the Fergusson Gallery in Perth.

Janeanne says the temperature, tide, time of year, weather, and the unpredictable moods of the sea combine to create the temporary shapes and lighting that make her photographs.

She says: "I am trying to let people experience what my mind's eye sees when I am under the water.

"Some of the works have been created from things that are in the water through pollution.

"These are the ones that are kicking a bigger question back about why they are there and how can we make sure they are not there?"

image captionThe alien glow of a jellyfish captured in an image called Atomic

The irony is that she makes the debris that should not be in the sea look beautiful and ethereal.

Janeanne says: "That's the irony I am playing with here.

"People have become quite numb to photos of piles of waste. These images are created to last longer and I want people to have these discussions."

An exhibition of her work, Above Below, Beyond, is being displayed at the Fergusson Gallery in Perth until 24 March 2018.

Related Topics

  • Freediving
  • Perth
  • Edinburgh

Related Internet Links

  • Janeanne Gilchrist

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