Making Dreams Visible: Underwater Photographer Zena Holloway

Making Dreams Visible: Underwater Photographer Zena Holloway

Born in Bahrain and based in London, Zena Holloway is a self-taught underwater photographer. A trained scuba dive instructor and guide, she discovered her love for photography during her time spent in the water, which she considers her studio.

Zena pushes the boundaries of creativity by capturing a moment in time where her figures float serenely in an open, solitary space of calm. Seeking to uncover the essence of a person in a peaceful underwater world, her photographs are at once surreal, mesmerizing and romantic. Also a film director, she has worked with a host of reputable clients including Faberge, GQ, Nike, Sony, singers Kylie Minogue and Rita Ora.

We recently chatted with the Atelier artist to delve deep into her unique creative process and the inspiration behind her work.


What’s your story, Zena Holloway?

I am an underwater photographic artist living in London. My work deviates from the stereotypical imagery associated with underwater photography. For me, the underwater landscape serves as a backdrop. Using cinematic drama and painterly aesthetics, I like to direct my models along themes of universal human experiences: love, loss, intimacy and romance.

What inspired you to become a photographer?

Edward Weston was a 20th century photographer; he lived in a time when the science of photography was just emerging and he began to take pictures as a result of his amazement at subject matter. It was a visit to the coral reefs of the Red Sea that offered me this amazement of subject matter? and led me to pick up my first camera. I taught myself to use it and started on the path of becoming an underwater photographer. That was nearly 25 years ago and since that time, I have gathered a few wrinkles, a husband, 3 children and a cat, but my infatuation with capturing imagery beneath the surface hasn’t changed.

What initially drew you to the water?

A natural curiosity for marine life, nature, wanderlust and adventure.

(Photo via Citizen Atelier, shot by Ashley Capp for Style at Home)
(Photo via Citizen Atelier, shot by Ashley Capp for Style at Home)

How would you describe your creative process?

Each project is different, but generally, the first step involves a lot of research and reading around the idea. I gather all the props, wardrobe and option specific crew that are appropriate for the job. Often, I hold a casting to find specific models that fit the brief and then eventually, I schedule a shoot day at an underwater studio or in the ocean where I hope all the hard work will come together for a split second, while I capture it with my Canon!

What has been the most gratifying moment in your career?

I think it’s more about building up a steady stream of gratifying moments, and that happens each time I press the trigger. I get a buzz out of creating something magical.

In your eyes, what role does art play in a home?

Above everything, art needs to inspire emotion in the viewer. It should be stimulating and hopefully give pleasure. Perhaps it defines a space; perhaps it’s a talking point for visitors; or perhaps it’s just there to cover an ugly wall. Artwork in my own home gives me lots of satisfaction. I buy a lot of vintage pieces.

(“Angel 9”, available here)
("Angel 2", available here)
(“Angel 2”, available here)


What message do you hope to send through your work?

My images illuminate the space between myth and reality. On the one side, our seas and oceans are powerful symbols from folklore and fairy tales, places of enchantment, but also, mystery and danger. On the other, water is an eternally present and powerful truth, nourishing, sustaining and commanding our respect. Somewhere in between is a world of imagination that I am inspired to bring to life, and in the process, ask questions about ourselves, our relationship with water and our responsibilities to the natural environment.

As an artist, what legacy do you hope to leave behind?

Increasingly, my projects have environmental themes. I’m currently working on a project to raise awareness about plastic in our oceans. I hope that the work will be able to influence a wider audience to help protect the planet and the creatures that are trying to share it with us. Unfortunately, the human race has become too successful and our vast populations are squeezing so many wonderful and amazing creatures into extinction. I hope I can help to straddle the gap between what we are doing and what we should be doing to redress our impact.


Explore Zena’s limited-edition prints, currently available on Citizen Atelier. You can also find her on Instagram @zenaholloway.

(Pictured: Rita Ora)
(Pictured: Rita Ora)