The first time I was taken to dive a shipwreck I was in awe. A dead, man-made structure had become a home for new life to flourish.
The circle of Life and Death… happening in front of my eyes. It was beautiful, it was magical!
I have always loved fairytales. I grew up hearing stories all the time! I’m a big fan of the character from the day of the dead: “La Catrina” and I love mermaids “sirenas”. In my mind I combined the two and created an imaginary character: “La Catrina Sirena”, bringing together my passion for the Ocean and Mexico’s Folk Art. #Aworldofitsown
The Catrina Sirena is Life and Death combined. She represents eternal hope for the circle of life to continue on this blue planet.
I am passionate about protecting our beautiful planet and the Catrina Sirena is my way to remind us to love and care for our home. In Mexico the day of the Dead is not only to remember the dead, but to care for them, feed them, dust off their bones. Today we see reports of environmental disasters all the time. We experience hurricanes and floods and see documentaries about the destruction of natural habitats. It’s easy to lose hope, to think the storie’s already over; so much damage has already been done. The Catrina Sirena is a reminder that even in a time of death there is still beauty, we should still care. She is my way to start a conversation, to bring awareness to the beauty of our dying planet and inspire us to have a conscious life style – we’re not dead yet.
The Catrina Sirena was born in 2015 on a shipwreck in Cancun at 100 feet
At the beginning of this project it was very important to show the Catrina in the shipwreck with life next to her. The dead ship is covered with new, healthy reef everywhere! However, to show the beauty of the life in my photographs, I needed to use flash to light the red reef. Here was the first of many technical challenges in the shoot. Using off-camera flash implied directing my model and support team, without speaking, in strong currents and with only minutes to get the shot because of the depth and the limited air in our scuba tanks!
Technically, this project was very complicated, I naively thought I could get all the images I wanted on my first dive! I soon learnt otherwise!! On the first dive with Polly, my first Catrina Sirena, when her support diver tried to give her air the regulator got tangled in her costume – so scary! Then I was so excited taking photos that I didn’t pay attention to my air…
100ft underwater, suddenly I realized I had nothing to breathe… A moment of cold chills made me think I might stay down here as the real Catrina Sirena!
That’s when you understand the importance of a great support team. I had an amazing support diver, the “King of the Ocean” came to my rescue. He held my hand, locked his eyes with mine and gave me his air. Alive and kicking we returned to surface.
We went back to the shipwreck a total of three times to shoot inside and outside the boat. The second time it was Frida Lemus, Mexican freediver champion who embodied La Catrina. The third it was Iris Vasconez. An amazing team of women sharing a love for the ocean.
“No Blue no Green” – Dr. Sylvia Earle
“No Blue no Green” – without the oceans, our planet is lost. Dr. Sylvia Earle is perhaps the greatest ocean ambassador alive today. She is such an inspiration to me and I wanted to show that importance of the coral reefs with the Catrina Sirena.
Cozumel is known for spectacular flora, fauna and clear water but like all over the world the coral is showing signs of damage from pollution and climate change. We placed La Catrina Sirena next to the barren areas, edges of the reef damaged and dying to remind us how we will be lost without this important part of our ecosystem and at the same time photograph the beauty that still exists, gorgeous reefs and gorgeous marine creatures around us.
Without water, humankind couldn’t survive. Water is life, flowing in harmony between the earth and the sky.
Where we live, in the Yucatan Peninsula the ground is like a gruyere cheese. It’s riddled with subterranean rivers that can be accessed by the “cenotes” – holes in the earth that lead to the underground river system. The cenotes form part of the largest underground river system in the world. Like all rivers they go to the ocean, so La Catrina Sirena should visit the cenotes too.
Every cenote has it’s own special character. The first times we went it was rainy season, so the water in the cenote I chose had an amazing reddish, orange color. The color came from the tannins produced by the fallen leaves and branches, softly rotting in the water. The beautiful process of death.
It was like being in a place out of this World. Having the Catrina Sirena swimming next to decomposing trees going back to the earth was unbelievable.
After eight underwater photoshoots, there was something missing: the male figure known as the Catrín. Throughout Mexico, on the Day of the Dead, the Catrina is paired to the Catrín, his partner in the afterlife.
I needed a Catrín for the project too: mother nature needs those two energies, male and female, to create Life.
“Love never dies and the Catrina and Catrín are a reminder of the celebration of life. The celebration of life after death” – Matt.
More than 50 people have collaborated with us in the Day of the Dead Catrina Sirena Project.
We have been so lucky to have the support of an amazing team to bring my vision to life. Everyone is a star in their own right! Since the first photoshoot we had the collaboration of Mexican fashion designer Claudia Bo, who made the black, red embroidered corset. Mexican Folk Art was beautifully represented through all the costumes we hand made for all the Catrinas. Corset, head pieces, the amazing mermaid tales! The Red Catrina designed and hand made by Polly, the white mermaid tail from our friends at Sirenalia.
We’re not dead yet. There’s hope.
I love to say: “Hay Mas de lo Bonito.” that means “There is still more beauty”. When you feel like a tiny drop in the immensity of the ocean of life’s challenges, remember: we are all connected. Any little action … is action. Take a look at your lifestyle, what changes can you make to protect the natural resources? We all count. La Catrina Sirena will never die.
This is my contribution as an artist: see the Beauty of our Blue Planet, the beauty that mankind’s creativity can create to provoke change, to restore the balance!
In the Mayan Riviera we have some good news: All our ocean has been declared a protected area. There is a new project growing coral reef and Healthy Reefs is working for the well being of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world.
La Catrina Sirena has lots to show you… She’s an ongoing project and she will continue to show you beauty and inspire you to smile in wonder at the circle of life.
To learn more about reefs and their importance in our Planet watch Chasing Coral. You can even host a screening in your community and take action!
Rey del Mar, who showed me the Magic of the shipwreck and ocean in Mexico, #AworldOfItsOwn
“Daedalus”, Kai Engel