When James Katsipis, a Montauk photographer who captures surfers in all seasons, put out the call on Facebook and Instagram for female “models” to participate in his new “Mermaids of Montauk” series, he was flooded with inquiries from all over the country.
Some 20 images from the series will be on display tomorrow from 7 to 9 p.m. and through August at the Montauk Beach House. They feature women he already knew as well as some who responded to his Facebook and Instagram requests, but most of them are from right here on the South Fork. “We have so many beautiful women right here in Montauk I don’t have to look far for some great models,” he said.
He came up with the idea last summer while shooting Amanda Beckwith, a friend from Montauk, at one of his favorite docks. He was getting burnt out shooting surfers and was after something different. He and Ms. Beckwith swam out together under the dock for the photo shoot. She was wearing a tank top, and underwater it “looked so ethereal and angelic,” he said. “I fell in love with the image immediately.”
The pictures led him on a journey to take more underwater portraits of women, many of whom were Montauk locals. His next subject was Ariel Engstrom, a sun-bleached blonde surfer, who dives, surfs, and travels all over searching for big waves. He had her dive from a large yacht in Fort Pond Bay with a white cloth that swirled around her as she swam. “It was another homerun,” he said.
He took a hiatus from the project over the winter when the water turned cold, but started again this summer.
Photographing models is quite different from photographing surfers, he said. It allows him to flex the more creative part of his brain. He is learning to direct his subjects to get the expressions and movement he’s after, and to overcome the challenges of lighting and of shooting while treading water. When he’s shooting surfers, he is often on a surfboard himself, getting what he has called a “seals-eye view.”
His “Mermaid” shoots take place in the ocean, the sound, Lake Montauk, ponds, woodland areas, on top of large rocks, and in tall grasses. He aims for elegance whether the models are clothed or nude. “It’s really what the mermaid is comfortable with. If the girl is uncomfortable you’ll be able to read that in the photo so it would be a waste of time getting naked,” he said.
Carl Heath assists Mr. Katsipis, doing everything from swatting horseflies and mosquitoes away to carrying equipment to handing the models a robe as they get out of the water. “He’s a great addition to my team,” he said.