There was a camera crew waiting to film my arrival at at the airport in Cebu. They fllowed behind me as I was escorted to the BigFoot bus, and then transported back to the film Studio. This was a modelling contract I had always aspired to, and it was almost unbelievable to now be working with an organisation that specialised in underwater entertainment. I was always been fascinated by the unique skills required to transform a model into a mermaid, and this was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Upon arriving at BigFoot Studios, the director of underwater photography and international film maker, Michael Gleissner, greeted me enthusiastically. There was an introductory dinner for the models and photographers, and after that we were initiated into the clubbing scene with a long night out and an early morning trip to Jolly Bee for traditional Philippine fast food. This party life became me, and slowly, my daytime persona slipped away. The only reminders of my innocence were the white tissues folded neatly in my ears in a futile attempt to retain my hearing. After several wild weeks, the days blurred together and I decided to spend a moment alone, forgetting the superficial fun of these evening adventures and considering the future.
I sat at Tiki bar, watching the tide covering the sand and matted sea grass. Islands dotted the dusky horizon. A mysterious Iranian film maker joined me, he said ”the ocean is peace”. We discussed poetry, philosophy, and politics. Then as the rain began to fall, we walked home together. This new friendship was refreshing, an escape from the unpredictability and fantastical demands of the film and fashion industries. Remembering moments like these was critical to distracting myself from breathing during the daily breath training sessions, and after several weeks my breath holding time had increased from 30 seconds to 3 minutes.
Then as I returned from the markets one day I was and summoned to the office of Michael Gleissner, and asked to begin shooting underwater. For weeks the weather had been unsuitable, and now suddenly the rain had stopped. We had less than an hour before these optimal photographic conditions were lost, because of fading light and ocean currents stirring the sediment. There was a rush to prepare equipment, contact safety divers, organise a location, and coordinate model fittings. The weighted shoes were laced up my legs, and my eyes began to water from the toxic aroma of waterproof cosmetics.
I was honoured to be selected as the first underwater model this season, and my heart raced with excitement as the shoreline disappeared behind me. Thousands of fish schooled around the boat, leaping out of the water in silver clouds. The sun wavered against a striped sky, threatening to disappear altogether. The motor cut and divers began to individually submerge and then descend, before disappearing out of sight. The water surrounded me, cold and reassuring, the ocean was peace. I took slow deep breaths and watched the mercurial bubbles flutter from my regulator to the surface. My feet found the ocean floor and I equalised, removed my mask, opened my eyes, cleared my mind, and began to shoot.