What do Kate Winslet and This Award-Winning Photographer Have in Common?

By Marie-Antoinette Issa
on 21 May 2024

Given his impressive filmography (which includes Titanic, Avatar and the Terminator movie series), it’s safe to say that Director James Cameron has worked with a few stars. And, while she might not be a household name (a la Kate Winslet) quite yet, this now includes Christy Lee Rogers. An acclaimed American artist, who has garnered international attention for her unique approach to underwater photography. Unlike traditional underwater photography, Rogers shoots her subjects from above the water. And, utilises the distortion of the water’s surface to create a painterly effect reminiscent of 15th-century art. Her distinctive style won her the Sony World Open Photography Award, surpassing 224,000 entries. And attracted high-profile commissions from Apple and Lavazza. As well as, most recently, James Cameron for his film “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

Drawing on his own passions for his deep-sea adventures and environmental conservation efforts, Cameron recently collaborated with Rogers to create a special series of photographs featuring the stars of “Avatar: The Way of Water.” This collaboration was aimed at raising funds for The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) “Keep Our Oceans Amazing” initiative. Cameron’s deep commitment to oceanic exploration and conservation made him the perfect partner for this endeavour. His wife, Suzy Cameron, who runs a plant-based school in California named Muses, inspired the title of the series that Rogers was working on when Cameron first discovered her work. In fact, the first piece Cameron purchased from Rogers was from her Muses series, intended as a gift for Suzy.

The idea for Rogers to photograph the “Avatar” stars originated from a conversation between Rogers, her agent Fraser Scott and Cameron. Scott, a London-based art dealer, had successfully used a similar promotional approach with bands like Coldplay and the Backstreet Boys to raise millions for children’s charities. This idea quickly gained Cameron’s approval, leading to the involvement of Jon Landau, the Oscar-winning producer of “Titanic” and “Avatar.” Landau facilitated connections with Disney to arrange and fund the shoot.

The logistics of the shoot were intricate. Disney arranged for Rogers and Scott to travel to England and Los Angeles, coordinating with producers Alex Lake and Matt Brown Films to shoot Kate Winslet and with TXL Films at the Biltmore Hotel in LA for Sigourney Weaver and Zoe Saldana. Each location and participant required meticulous planning, especially considering the underwater nature of the shoot. The actresses, well-prepared from their underwater training for “Avatar,” still needed to adapt to Rogers’ specific techniques. Which involved lying or dancing at the bottom of the pool. Renowned diving specialist Kirk Krack, who trained the actresses for “Avatar,” was brought in to assist during the shoot.

Rogers’ preparation for the shoot was extensive. She discussed the artistic vision with Cameron, designed costumes, and planned the lighting and overall aesthetic. During the shoot, which lasted around 3-4 hours per actress, Rogers directed the actresses using underwater speakers. Creating a serene, ballet-like environment with alternating light patterns and floating fabrics. This artistic approach resulted in a series of breathtaking images, each capturing the unique expression of the actresses.

Post-production was a lengthy process, with Rogers dedicating months to perfecting the final images. Meanwhile, Fraser Scott worked with TNC to develop a plan for selling the artworks to benefit their ocean conservation efforts. Inspired by his previous success with musical artists, Scott arranged for a limited edition of Rogers’ artworks, titled “The Muses of Avatar,” to be sold. The editions ranged from large acrylic prints to museum-quality prints and affordable art-posters, ensuring accessibility for all Avatar fans.

Cameron expressed his admiration for Rogers’ art, emphasising its natural inspiration for the “Avatar” project. Landau highlighted the synergy between the art and the conservation campaign. And, Rogers herself underscored the healing and life-giving properties of water. Aligning her work with the mission to protect the world’s oceans. Melissa Garvey, TNC’s Global Director of Ocean Protection, praised the collaboration for its potential to shape a healthier future for oceans and all life on Earth.

Through this innovative blend of art and activism, Rogers and her collaborators are making significant strides in ocean conservation. Ultimately, proving that art can be a powerful force for environmental change.

Artworks are available to purchase via www.christyleerogers.com/avatar and can be seen at www.instagram.com/christyleerogers

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