Interview 60. – Zena Holloway

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Photo credit: Nick Simpson
Zena Holloway has photographed Olympians, sports personalities, singers and songwriters as well as newborn babies, indigenous peoples and creatures of all shapes and sizes; both marine and terrestrial. Born in Bahrain and raised between London and pretty much everywhere else in the world, she went on her first dive in England as a teenager. Charmed by the magic of the underwater world, she began experimenting with a camera and decided to chart her own course in an ultra-niche profession.

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Describe something that has recently amazed you and how it made you feel.

I did a fashion shoot with around twenty Caribbean Reef Sharks in the Bahamas recently. They were about 3 metres long and just bull dozed through, like puppies, looking for food and clipping divers/cameras/lights to be first to get their meal. Once I’d got used to the bumping and barging process the photographic opportunities were amazing and the feeling of being in their space was out of this world. Sharks are incredible creatures and definitely don’t deserve all the bad press they get. More should be done to help save their kind from extinction.

How would you personally define wonder, awe and curiosity? And how do they relate to each other?

Wonder is that feeling of being deep underwater, attached to nothing but connected to everything.

Awe is that small feeling when something bigger than you comes along.

Curiosity is essential to experience both of the above.


Where do you think our sense of wonder comes from and what can we do to cultivate it?

I’ve no idea where the sense of wonder comes from but being in and around wide-open spaces of water can definitely cultivate it. Our emotional responses to our environment arise from the oldest parts of our brain, a part that was there well before we evolved language and our present form of thinking.

Young boy and whale calf: The Waterbabies by Charles Kingsely |
Photo Credit: Zena Holloway
Can you tell me about your journey to becoming an underwater photographer? What’s the big appeal for doing your work?

I forfeited a place at university to live in Egypt and become a SCUBA diving instructor when I was 18.  It was a completely spontaneous decision. One thing led to another and I gradually taught myself to use a camera.  That was over 20 years ago and the excitement of underwater photography has never gone away. I love that unpredictable, bewitching environment where I can throw out the rule book of the atmosphere we usually inhabit and just observe.


Your photographs have a real ethereal quality to them but out of shot I reckon there must be a huge amount of technique, technology and talent. Can you tell me about what work goes into creating an underwater photo?

I like to test the connection we have with our oceans, lakes and waterways.  My aim is to engage the imagination, to make links with what lies below the surface and dive deep into the unconscious mind.  There’s a magic to being underwater and creating a great image is about tapping into that.

[Cheesy question warning] If you were given the opportunity to be turned into a mermaid, would you take it? And why?

Nope, it didn’t make Daryl Hannah or Ariel very happy.


You live in an ex Ministry of Defence Bunker! How did that come about and how practical is it?

We have a lot of thick, curved concrete walls which are great for a growing family of boisterous kids but less good for carpenters trying to build fitted cupboards. The acoustics around here are also quite special.  You don’t want to be whispering secrets into corners as it can bounce around and sometimes be heard on the other side of the house! It’s an amazing place to live and we love it.

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