[photo credit: Nick Simpson]
Zena Holloway was born in Bahrain in 1973 and raised in London. She's worked as an underwater photographer in London since 1995 when she returned to the UK after three years abroad as a scuba instructor and underwater videographer.
Self-taught, Zena's images are striking, instinctive and driven by a deep understanding of her medium. She delivers a remarkable combination of highly technical underwater photography and superb creative direction to create extraordinary magical imagery.
Based in London, where she lives with her partner and their three young children, Brooke, Willow and Woody, Zena's work appears regularly in publications such as How to Spend It, GQ, Observer Magazine, 125, Tatler and Dazed & Confused. She has won many international awards and her commercial clients include Nike, Umbro, Sony, National Geographic and Jacuzzi.
If you have a degree in what field is it? I don’t have a degree. At eighteen I had a place to study architecture at university but at the last minute went on a scuba holiday to Egypt and decided to stay on and become a dive guide. I worked the boats, became a scuba instructor and the photography grew from there.
What was your strangest assignment? It’s a toss-up between shooting skeletons and buried treasure in Uruguay; race horses in the Caribbean Sea; dogs underwater for Pedigree; great whites in South Africa; Kylie Minogue in East London; or a shoot for Quintessentially magazine with an anaconda and various snappy crocodiles.
Which photographer would you like to meet? I’m not particularly bothered about meeting other photographers but I love to admire their work. At the moment Tim Walker, Bruno Dayan and Sophie Delaport’s images keep finding their way onto my mood boards.
Which famous person (living or dead) would you most like to photograph? To have had the opportunity to work (underwater) with Marilyn Monroe would have been amazing.
Aside from your camera and lighting, what item could you not work without? A pot of Vaseline. I use it on my hair to grease it back and prevent the chlorine from turning it to straw.
Is there anything you would not digitally retouch? The whole retouch thing is part of the process of creating the work. Sometimes images need little more than color balancing and sometimes clients ask for a complete rebuild. I’m not a great lover of massive retouching but whatever works is fine with me and nothing is out of bounds.
From where do your best ideas originate? I’m always happiest with concepts that come from collaborating with other people. I rely strongly on creative directors and stylists to push me down paths that I might not naturally go; I enjoy the thrill of being out of my comfort zone.
How do you overcome a creative block? There’s a state of mind in between being awake and asleep where I have lots of good ideas. The trouble is remembering them the next morning.
What's your approach to balancing work and life? I have three small children so I’m always juggling my life as a mum with my life as a photographer. My husband is a property developer so, over the last ten years, we’ve done our fair share of house moves as well. I like change and excitement, hard work and risk taking and managing a life in the fast lane is all part of the rich fabric of life.
Do you have creative pursuits other than photography? We have a large space in the house where the kids do all of their crafts and painting. I’m waiting for them to get to the ages that they can clean up their own spilled water pots or tidy up dirty paintbrushes by themselves. Until then I won’t get much time to be creative outside of work; however at Christmas we each make a trinket to go on the tree and I’ve been known to get a bit obsessive about creating mine.
What music are you listening to right now? CocoRosie and Adele (Is there anyone who doesn’t love her music?).
What’s your favorite quote? “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” Loren Eiseley, anthropologist and author of The Immense Journey, intended this as it relates to nature. I like it because it sums up the way I feel when I’m underwater.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Find a direction that you’re fiercely passionate about and work it until you develop a style that’s unique.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? If I had it to do over again I would attend art school to get better creative grounding and grow more quickly. I’m self-taught so at times it’s been a vertical learning curve and support would have been a wonderful thing. However, maybe that was part of the process.