By Jane Bachrach
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Local commercial photographer Tyler Stableford has had a dream project in mind for quite awhile. The fine-art project that has teased his imagination and surfaced frequently was really, really LARGE and challenging.
Then in late August after mentally testing the waters for a few years, he finally put together his dream team and plunged in. Fortunately for us here in Carbondale and the Roaring Fork Valley, the public will have the opportunity to check out the images that were created out of his labor of love at a reception from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 13 at Phat Thai in downtown Carbondale. The reception will feature seven large, fine-art prints that Stableford and his Co-Director Kate Rolston photographed during their journey “Into the Deep.”
The dream project
“I’m captivated by whale sharks and I’ve wanted to photograph a beautiful swimmer interacting gracefully with them,” Stableford told The Sopris Sun. “Although the whale shark is the largest shark in the world they’re completely docile,” he said.
Once a year in the late summer, whale sharks gather in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Cancun, to feed on the plankton. They remain there for about one or two months and can eventually grow to be 45–feet in length. There were about 40 of the whale sharks around when Stableford and his team were present.
The dream team
When Canon (cameras) learned about the project, the company commissioned it. With their support and the creative contributions, dedication and collaboration of Rolston and a family friend, Stableford was finally ready to dive in.
Photographer Kate Rolston lives in Carbondale and is co-director of Stableford Studios. “Kate’s role in this project was to shoot behind-the-scenes photos and videos for Canon, as well as to shoot the fine art images whenever possible,” Stableford said. Rolston was quite involved with the project and research, and said that Stableford’s excitement and inspiration was contagious and rubbed off on her.
“This is a project Tyler had talked about for two summers and seeing his drive and his ability to carry it through made it a special experience for me,” Rolston said.
The other key team member is Ashley Moser. She used to live in Carbondale but moved to Los Angeles a year ago to pursue a career in cinematography. “I needed a beautiful model with strong lung capacity who could hold her breath for long periods of time; someone who was a good swimmer that could swim gracefully and give us graceful poses,” Stableford said. Although Stableford originally thought about using a professional model, in the end he realized that Moser fit the bill. “She was a willing subject and close friend of the family. She used to be a professional swimmer and competed in the Olympic Trials at one point. And … she’s beautiful.”
Last August, with the team in place, off they went.
“This is the most challenging photography I’ve almost ever done,” Stableford said, adding that the shoot was challenging for everyone. “The area is protected and restricted and you must go with a certified guide, and wear only snorkel gear,” he said. This was the main reason that he needed a model that had a lot of strength as a swimmer.
During the shoot, Stableford and Rolston both had snorkels and wore masks and fins. Moser didn’t. They shot with standard Canon cameras put in underwater housing.
“We shot both on the surface snorkeling and also diving deep down underneath the sharks, holding our breath.
We had only seconds to capture a moment, to capture Ashley in graceful poses next to or underneath a whale shark.
We were in the water for five hours shooting among the whale sharks with dozens of failed attempts. The sharks are always moving. Ashley had no flippers, snorkel or mask and the challenge was to position ourselves in such a way to get the most artful, graceful shots,” Stableford said.
According to Moser, “it was really hard physical work. I had to swim down 20 to 30 feet and we did it over and over for hours.”
Whereas Stableford had specific shots he was going for, Rolston wasn’t as restricted because she didn’t have a particular image or images in mind in addition to her role of shooting behind-the-scenes photos and videos for Canon. She was basically free to spontaneously create her own fine-art images.
The experience of swimming among whale sharks underneath the ocean’s surface was different for each team member, yet a lot of the feelings were similar.
Rolston said she was a bit nervous, although her anxiety wasn’t so much about the whale sharks — it was about wanting the day to go smoothly. It was about being able to get some good photographs and the physical challenge of having to continually go under the water to get the shots.
“Once I was under the water with the sharks it was peaceful being with them; watching their undulating tails as I fell in line and followed them. It was an amazing and special opportunity,” she said. “The animals were so much bigger than I expected and there’s this moment of ‘oh my gosh’!”, but rather than being afraid it was exhilarating. It’s a completely different world down there. It’s so quiet it’s a clarifying experience that makes all your other senses extra aware, just looking for that right moment.”
“I was a little bit frightened,” Ashley said, “but I’m so comfortable in the water that it was more of a beautiful opportunity to connect with another soul in the water. It was dreamy and surreal. Despite the really hard physical work, it was awe-inspiring. When I was under the belly of the whale shark there was a moment when I was so present. They’re humongous! It was beautiful and exhausting.”
In addition to the challenge, Stableford said that for him, “It was a really powerful experience to swim with such enormous creatures. It was both thrilling and peaceful to be alongside the sharks; they are quite docile.”
What you will see at Phat Thai are uncomposited single frame images, meaning they weren’t altered in Photoshop nor were there a series of images put together to make one photo. The only thing that Stableford Studios retoucher Draper White did to the images was a bit of toning to help find the right mood. Team member Ben Thomas edited Rolston’s video that she shot for Canon.
What: “Into the Deep” exhibit
Where: Phat Thai
When: 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 13.