Off the coast of Cancun, deep below the sea, one would think they’d stumbled across the lost city of Atlantis – some five hundred figures, sculptures and monuments lie buried in the sand, collecting algae and transfixed in time as if frozen. This is in fact MUSA (el Museo Subacuatico de Arte), the world’s largest underwater sculpture park.
The project was established in order to protect the Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world, in the waters surrounding Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Punta Nizuc. Over the years, the increasing numbers of tourist diver and snorkeler traffic had begun to unintentionally damage the reef, so British artist Jason de Caires Taylor in conjunction with Roberto Díaz Abraham set out to create an artificial reef that would alleviate the stress on the natural reefs. Integrating their skills and experiences as artists, conservationists and divers, their sculptures prove that art is often more than just aesthetics.
El Museo Subacuatico de Arte demonstrates how the relationship between mankind and nature can be positive and sustainable, giving hope that we can live in a symbiotic relationship with nature. The sculptures are in a sense living art – art that over time will alter and change as the coral transforms the sculptures, whist in turn creating awareness about one of the crucial problems occurring in our oceans today.
The positive interaction between art and science has attracted much interest from people around the world, from conservationists looking to replicate the parks success in new destinations, to artists who too hope to combine their creative talents with raising environmental awareness. One of these creatives was London based photographer Claudia Legge. With her passion for underwater photography, Claudia has an innate ability to capture the freedom and escapism of the ocean. Her series of photos from Mexico are ethereal and enchanting, wonderfully capturing these hauntingly beautiful sculptures.
We caught up with Claudia briefly to talk about her recent visit to Mexico and her experiences photographing Jason’s sculptures.
What drew you to photographing these sculptures?
Claudia: When I discovered the Jason de Caires Taylor sculptures I completely fell in love with them and knew I had to go investigate with my camera. I think because I have a degree in sculpture I really resonated with this underwater experience. I am also a big supporter of the idea behind the underwater installation. It is the world’s largest underwater sculpture museum, created as another attraction for divers, to stop them from diving around the natural coral reef and potentially destroying it.
The subject is completely different from your usual work how did you find the experience different?
Claudia: For this series I was diving so that made the experience different from some of my other projects and shooting in the ocean with bull sharks around always makes the experience more exciting. It is challenging photographing things that don’t move as you have to be a lot more creative in order to get interesting shots. For me this project was the ultimate escapism, which is an important process for me when I am shooting.
What was it like diving amongst the sculptures?
Claudia: It was such a surreal experience at the bottom of the ocean, amongst these extraordinary people. What I loved about the sculptures is that they are molds of the locals, which adds a whole new dimension to the art when you look at it. I was wondering whether I had come across any of them in the local town.