The City Magazine Since 1975

The Water’s Fine

May 2018
The Water’s Fine
WRITER: 

How Leigh Webber went from wedding photographer to underwater artist—and what this month’s “Dive In” exhibit is all about

Leigh Webber takes the plunge with underwater housing for her Nikon D810. See more at leighwebber.com

When it comes to her art, photographer Leigh Webber goes all in. Fresh out of art school at SCAD, she moved to California to work in one of the country’s first digital photography studios. She dedicated a year to pairing daily photos of her son, Seamus, with quotes on Instagram in a project called Toddler365. And she recently traveled to Thailand to shoot a suitcase of Marysia Swim bathing suits. Now, she charters new territory with “Dive In,” a Fritz Porter show that opens May 1 and hangs through June 30, featuring fine art acrylic prints of photographs shot in or under water from Sullivan’s to the Bahamas, with words like “making waves” and “sink or swim” attached in neon lights. As she launches into the world of fine art, “Dive In” is more than a project for Webber: “It’s a philosophy—a mind-set of going after your dreams and not being scared. I feel like I’ve found my niche.”

Starting with weddings: When I moved to Charleston in 2003, I started shooting weddings, but I’ve never been that person who says, “I love love.” For me it was always more artistic.

New direction: The shift from freelance to fine art started with a 365-day project I did photographing my son in 2013, which stretched my creativity. Around that time, I saw some underwater images that drew me in, so I started with a GoPro.

Underwater work: The magic is that it’s a creative challenge, and I never really know what I’m going to get. But when I started, I had no one to please but myself. After shooting weddings for 15 years, that was very freeing.

(Clockwise from top left) Dive In from Webber’s Neon Mantras series; Underwater Handstand; and Beginning of Summer

Globe-trotting: Growing up, my family visited the 48 continental states, so travel has always been a thing for me. I booked my last trip to Thailand on a whim and reached out to brands I’d worked with before, offering to take their products with me to shoot. I’d love to use underwater photography to do an around-the-world series.

Why the words: I like the art of combining words and photos. The neon spells out water-themed mantras meant to fuel you. When I started these pieces, I was silkscreening the words on, but I found myself saving every photo of neon I saw on Instagram. I was drawn to the way it lights up a room and makes it glow with color.

Bucket list: I’ve been shooting the Spoleto Festival for years. There isn’t a ton of visual art at the event, but I loved the projections of people dancing in slow motion in Marion Square last year. Someday I would love to do something big like that.

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Photographs by (portrait) Sally Watts & (artwork - 3) Leigh Webber