Q: How did you get started in your craft?

I’d always enjoyed photography, and knew how to dive, but what got me doing this as a more serious craft was a horrible, controlling supervisor at my day job who was determined to suppress any/every expression of creativity or innovation. That somehow led me to dedicate more to finding purpose and doing things I loved outside of work, which resulted in combining my love of the underwater world with my photography. It ended up becoming soul food.

Q: Are you self-taught or did you take classes? Tell us a little about your learning experience.

Do you have an opinion on instruction vs. self-teaching? I am Self-taught along with finding advice and benefit of others’ experience through the internet; beyond that, it’s learning by doing and sharing tips with fellow photogs during dive trips. On one trip I did by chance encounter a guy who had done a lot of contract u/w [underwater] work with National Geographic, got some good tips and have since joined a couple of his other trips. I’ve also done a ton of reading about marine life, from genetics and evolutionary biology to oceanography. I encounter a new creature and next I am researching its life and habitat. Beyond gathering the basics of photography and diving, in depth understanding of and empathy for my subjects has been the most important. I love each animal and feel for the predicament into which we have placed so many of them.

Q: What quality or technique sets your work apart from other artisans?

That’s a tough question.  In the Guild, no two artisans are alike; each brings their own style or touch to their craft. In terms of my own objectives, I want to cause people to realize the sea is full of sentient life. I strive to capture each creature’s sensibility in a way that people can perhaps feel a connection. People will take better care of that to which they feel some connection. 

Q: What one word or phrase best describes how you feel when you’re working?

‘Absorbed in heart and soul’  Being in the water and having those encounters is an enveloping experience, literally. You can’t readily be reached nor can you easily communicate with anyone else other than a hand signal. You are only with your own thoughts and these creatures. You get to relive it later, while working through the photographs and then yet again, when people stop by and take time to look and hear the stories at craft shows. So, it’s a “three-fer."

Q: Please share one of your most interesting or enlightening customer experiences.

I’ve had many that were great and will share a couple. One involved a young boy at an outdoor festival, aged maybe 6 or 7. His mom was taking her time in booths nearby, and he was patiently going through each of my stuff racks, looking at each and every picture one by one. I was kept busy with other visitors and customers, and finally after about 15 minutes, when I asked if I could help, he said, please show him the picture that was the hardest for me to get, and tell him the story. I picked out a picture of an eagle ray that I’d waited for for an entire dive, and that I’d all but run out of air for. After hearing the whole story, the kid said, “That’s the very one I must have!” He persuaded his mom and ended up taking it home… but not before showing it to just about everyone else at the show, apparently, bragging that it was the hardest of all the pictures to get!

My most heart rending encounter though was less “customers” than “listeners,” though I later ended up with purchases from parents of a couple of the kids in question.  I’d been invited to display photos for a month at the Lombardi Cancer Center in Georgetown a few years ago. Right behind the foyer was the place where kids came to get their treatments. I asked the liaison at one point if the kids who were there might like to hear “sea stories” attached to some of the pictures on display. She went along with it, so I took time off from work, expecting that holding the kids’ attention might last maybe 45 min. Boy, did I ever underestimate … three hours later we were still going strong on stories, questions, and sharing, for these 5, 6, 7 year old kids really knew their stuff and seemed to get such a kick, they kept going out and finding other pictures whose stories they needed. Some of them were so sick and still so full of interest and enthusiasm. It was heartbreaking and heartening at the same time. When I returned a week later to take down the exhibit, I was presented with a large, colorful papier mache fish with pearls for eyes and a tail of ribbons, signed “with love” by all those kids I’d spent that day with. I will forever hold it dear as my “perspective fish."

Q: If you could start your artistic life over again, what would you do differently? What’s the best piece of advice you can give new artisans in your craft?

I would not have waited so long…I would have started earlier, as I fear I’m going to run out of time before running out of oceans to explore, creatures to meet - or people to appreciate the stories.

See more of Gloria’s work here:  http://smg.photobucket.com/user/gfandac/library/?sort=3&page=1