Small-town girl Ilse Moore grew up at a yacht club in the Free State, where she spent most of her time sailing and skiing… She later went on to get her visual arts degree where she first started experimenting with photography… Getting back into the water was simply inevitable. Always on a mission to defy gravity, she started as a cartoonist/painter doing concept sketches for her shoots. Elsa Bleda, born in France as the only child of a Turkish family, has been living in South Africa for 5 years; she finished her studies in music and is currently working as a photographer and an Art Director with an interest in a range of different fields of work she strives to work toward. David Plenderleith chats with them about the underwater work they’ve done together thus far.

"The Spirit of Galatea" by Joel Janse van Vuuren

“The Spirit of Galatea” by Joel Janse van Vuuren

Elsa, what was it like being the art director and model for The Spirit of Galatea shoot?
EB: The Spirit of Galatea was originally a slow-motion underwater fashion video with Panavision, but we decided to turn it into a photo shoot as well. And so glad talented Ilse Moore joined the project to be a part of this and we completed our editorial photo shoot that same day. For a long time i had wanted to shoot with Joel, since his style is so unique and his dresses are perfect for underwater, it almost felt like they were made for it. I’m just really grateful to have been working with such a talented crew that consisted of 11 eleven people.

Ilse tell me what it’s like shooting underwater. What limits you? What aspects are challenging and what’s fun?

IM: The shoot was very different from my usual underwater shoots…This time I got to wear scuba gear and not risk losing potential shots, but because we were shooting alongside a promotional team for an HD 3D video, I had to wait to shoot in between their takes. It was, however, great not having to worry about lighting and setup, but I missed being able to interact more with Elsa.

I am positive that the new year will see me take my images to a higher level.

Besides that, the clarity of the water, background and direction and intensity of light plays a huge role in the outcome of the images. People often underestimate the amount of post-processing that goes into making the images successful. You cannot control what happens underwater or how the outfits move. You have to be an opportunistic shooter and be willing to try and try again. This is why I work with Elsa so often, she not only understands what I’m looking for, but is also willing to push herself to achieve it.
What is most challenging for me is not getting lost in the moment, but staying focused on what I need to make the shoot successful. The shoot can so easily take a different direction if I let it, simply because there is so little control underwater. I often have to regroup and remember what I’m looking for. My focus on what I want to achieve is key. This whole process in itself is what makes it so much fun!

"The Spirit of Galatea" by Joel Janse van Vuuren

“The Spirit of Galatea” by Joel Janse van Vuuren

How do you communicate underwater?
IM: We don’t…. We discuss the idea and concept before the time and I usually guide her when we come up for air.

EB: It’s a taxing medium on both model and photographer, the longer one stays in the water, the harder it gets. We go in the water well prepared to minimize the time we spend in the water not shooting. Ilse and I became almost ‘telepathic’ after all the underwater shoots we’ve done, she knows exactly when I’m coming up to breath and how I will move and how she’ll have to frame me.

How long can you hold your breath for?
IM: I can go for about a minute and a half when I’m not carrying my gear, but since I float without my weights and sink without my fins I get tired pretty quickly, so I only last for about 20 – 30 seconds. The problem is that sometimes something beautiful happens underwater just as I’m about to catch my breath and I have to stay down! I also swim better without a snorkel, so I have to hold on a little longer.
EB: Haha, I’m not sure actually. I should ask Ilse. But the longer we shoot the lesser i can hold it for. Well, obviously.

Tell me about your connection with the subaquatic world…
IM: Strange and silly as it sounds, it allows me to be a part of myself that is unconstrained and free. I used to have recurring dreams about being able to breathe underwater when I was younger and would spend hours in the pool wishing it would come true! I find it very comforting, but extremely exciting at the same time. You get to see and experience things that you can’t otherwise simulate.
EB: I grew up in Mediterranean coast so I’m a waterbaby. Always loved water, and recently started to mix it with what i do and love which is an amazing feeling for me. Since last year I’ve been modeling for a few underwater photographers and shooting underwater videos, and it’s become a great passion for me.

"The Spirit of Galatea" by Joel Janse van Vuuren

“The Spirit of Galatea” by Joel Janse van Vuuren

What keeps you hungry to explore such a unique form of photography?
IM: The unpredictability. The rules change underwater and this makes it a breeding ground for new ideas. My style is constantly evolving and changing and I’m seeing things very differently from what I used to only a few years ago.
EB: Freedom and sense of weightlessness and flow within the visual arts. Also the fact that the possibilities underwater are endless, and the evolution of technology mixed with a great eye makes room for amazing visuals, completely surreal and unique.

What is it about ‘The Belle Époque’ you admire most?
IM: Personally, it would be the need to do things differently, to break away from a harsh reality by creating a new and sensational one. The inspiration behind Joel’s amazing dresses may be different from that though.
EB: It’s not as much the admiration but the similarity of it, with our era, that i find interesting. 

Elsa, are you are making an album with Nokz?
EB:My passion for music beats everything else. I studied sound engineering and music production. Nokz is a great electronic music producer from my country. We have been talking about a project together since high school years. We used to play Silent Hill and listen to composers like Akira Yamaoka, and dreamt of writing music for video games. So we definitely are influenced by artists like Akira. The album we’re (slowly) working on is not as dark as these examples, as he comes from an underground hiphop background and i love trip-hop, so it’s definitely a good combination.

"The Spirit of Galatea" by Joel Janse van Vuuren

“The Spirit of Galatea” by Joel Janse van Vuuren

What have you been dreaming about?
IM:I’m really not a complicated person, I love what I’m doing and wouldn’t want to change much at all. I guess I wish I had the ability, time and resources to pull off some of the visuals that I have in my head, but other than that the only thing I can think of is to simply be able to dive more often and not have to worry about paperwork.
EB:I recently watched Hellraiser II, so the last dream i had was a serial killer doctor chasing me. Other than serial killers…

I often dream of water, open seas and sharks since my childhood. It’s interesting, I’m actually terrified of the open sea.

Are there any future projects you can fill us in on? When will you be swimming again?
IM: I’m still working on completing my “Transformation” visual art series. I’m hoping to exhibit soon, but before completing the collection, I’ll be working on a number of fun and spontaneous underwater shoots featuring some new faces. There is a few unfinished art shoots featuring Elsa that will be up soon and in the meantime I’ve started working on a new concept fashion series with Joel. It still has a way to go, but I have cleared my schedule to incorporate all these projects this summer.

EB:Will be shooting more than ever this summer. Also there are so many underwater video shoots we will be doing with our underwater crew, time-lapse, slow motion, 3d etc.. We will just experiment in every way possible. There are also some underwater photo shoots Ilse and I were talking about. Hopefully all will start from October. Had to give it a 2-3 months break due to cold weather. But I’m very excited.

Click here to connect with Elsa Bleda on
Click here to connect with Ilse Moore on
Wonderland Couture by Feline Blush, The Spirit of Galatea by Joel Janse van Vuuren

Interview by David Plenderleith