National Coverage for Photography Graduate

Thursday 22 February 2018
Man o'War

We chat to Marine & Natural History Photography graduate Irene Mendez Cruz about her thoughts and inspirations regarding her series on the Portuguese man o'war. The project, capturing the organism's multi-coloured body and it's typical floating position, was featured in an article on WIRED.

Tell us a bit about the project

This series of photographs focuses on the Atlantic Portuguese Man O' War, I took them at home in an improvised pop-up studio. Despite their gelatinous look, Portuguese Man O’ War are not jellyfish, but siphonophores from the Physaliidae family. They are not an individual organism but a floating colony of hydrozoans. 

My home studio allowed me the freedom to experiment with different lightings, backgrounds, mediums and lenses and ultimately to create original shots. Portuguese Man O’ War are rarely seen under this light or from up-close. I wanted to draw the focus onto the mesmerising colours and alien-shapes of this marine animal rather than on its dangerous nature to humans. 

What inspired you to create it? 

A strong theme in my image making practice is to document my subject whilst also looking for abstraction in patterns, lines and colours. As a photographer specialised in nature and underwater photography, I am passionate about finding original ways to visually communicate the natural world, challenging audiences to look through a different lens on topics they might ordinarily overlook. I found this species to be incredibly interesting, both biologically and photographically. 

How does it feel to have your work featured in WIRED?

Being featured in WIRED UK's instagram and online magazine has been an extremely exciting opportunity and I am very grateful that they decided to showcase my work. It is also the first time that I have been published so this is an important milestone in my career. It has been really rewarding to share this work with people, get their opinions, and raise awareness about this fascinating species. 

What projects are you planning for the future? 

My next project is also related to the marine world, however this time I will be travelling abroad, to focus on the underwater life of Panama in an intense 6-week RAVE (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition). Panama is where “two oceans kiss", it is the narrowest strip of land between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and it is also the important link between North and South America. I will be documenting the underwater life of the Pacific, and the conservation challenges within the Panama Canal. 

What unique aspects and challenges does living and studying in Falmouth present? 

As a Marine & Natural History Photography student and photographer my work is focused primarily on the conservation of the natural world, the setting here in Falmouth provides a perfect opportunity to not only document, but also completely immerse yourself in the environment. Being somewhat isolated from the rest of the country means that you need to look for local stories, hone your skills in your local patch, and learn to see the beauty on your doorstep. It means being appreciative of things that might otherwise be overlooked.

Visit Irene's website to find out more about her work or follow her on Instagram @irenemendezcruz