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Hugh Arnold's Agua Nacida: Serendipity Under the Sea

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 Cora

Three years ago, one of the most coveted fashion and beauty photographers, Hugh Arnold, decided to accept no commercial work. Even with his thirty year career working for some of the biggest names, he realized he was not fulfilled inside and decided to change his life. What resulted was “Agua Nacida”, fine art photographs of underwater nudes that explore the journey of woman from womb to womanhood. The book and exhibit at the Hilton Asmus Contemporary that go hand in hand not only capture the unique poignancy and lessons women learn growing up, but encapsulate the themes from Arnold’s personal journey.

Water features heavily in Arnold’s work. “The minute you immerse in water, you have to become yourself,” Arnold explains. “You shed everything. It washes away all the superficial things.” It teaches you to go with the flow. If you jump in the air, gravity brings you down. “In water you can go upside down, suspend there,” he continues, “You can’t force anything. Everything has its own rhythm.”
Arnold learned to scuba dive for the project. His models, Nika Lauraitis, a Chicago native, and Polina Barbasova were trained swimmers. Nika dreamed of a project that combined modeling with swimming. They would discuss what he wanted above water and dive in. The models would come up for air, but Arnold would stay below, creating his own world beneath the waves. As much as they planned, they were able to allow for happy accidents. The girls misunderstood his requests and fought at one point. It has inspired his next few projects. “The person can’t see you. You can see them, but you’re a blur,” said Arnold. “There’s no way to interact.” It was a benefit he felt because he got to photograph the inner person. That inner person shines in the pages of “Agua Nacida”. Meaning “water born,” as you flip the pages you’re left with your gut reaction to the images shot in Fiji and Gozo. They’re stunning and inspire self- reflection. We follow the girls as curious children. You feel and remember the turbulence of adolescence looking at all the bubbles, the girls crashing into the water, feel the impact. It’s littered with quotes about life and water just as you collect quotes growing up, little literary beacons lighting the way, returning you to center. There’s a definite tone shift when she becomes a woman. Everything is quieter. She is sure in herself and her environment. The water is calm and world is larger around her.
The book has a different feel than the debut exhibit at the Hilton Asmus. Step into the gallery and you step into the ocean. It’s warm and encompassing. The energy sails around the room like a riptide. The purity captured in the images relaxes you. You feel refreshed, aware you are a drop in a greater ocean. Agua Nacida runs September 19th through October 26th, with an opening reception with Hugh Arnold September 19th from 5:30-9:00 pm. Books are available through his website, Amazon, and Merrell Publishers.

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