Dancer and filmmaker Christine Ren has combined her love of the arts and the ocean to create a series of artistic photographs, called Jellyfish Soup, highlighting global environmental issues.

When we talk about making an impact, we often buy the fallacy that it’s impossible for one person to make a difference. Especially in the face of monumental global environmental issues we can feel powerless. As a dancer and filmmaker, after pirouetting my way from science to a master’s degree in ocean policy and advocacy, I’ve uncovered a truth in my journey — that each of us has a unique ability to effect change with our own individualized talents and skills.

Jellyfish Soup from Christine Ren on Vimeo.

Making Jellyfish Soup

I had joked with colleagues for years that I just needed to combine my three passions — dance, ocean science and media — into one, so as to stop feeling pulled in so many directions. “I’ll make an underwater dance troupe,” I would exclaim jokingly, secretly plotting. Sometimes it only takes one person to believe in your crazy ideas. For me, that person was Brett Stanley. This talented photographer brought my wild idea for an underwater dance-conservation image series to life.

In particular, the conservation world uses the metaphor “Jellyfish Soup” to signify overfishing. The idea is that, as a society, we are hooked —on fossil fuels, on trawled seafood. We’re hooked on lifestyles in discord with the rhythms of nature. With so many lines in the water, we’re on a slippery slide toward oblivion, an ocean so overfished by our appetites and greed that future generations will only have jellyfish soup left.

What was the process?

The process to create these images was intense. Costume designer Laura Hazlett and I made my outfit from scratch. We also commissioned scientifically accurate jellyfish, the black sea nettle, which is native to California waters, from the prop master, Sarah Kugelmass. The pre-production aspects took months to assemble, while the actual shoot took about four to five hours from start to finish.

We created the images in a dive-shop pool. Brett did all the technical setup, shooting each of the props separately in the pool. Then he created an artistic composite on the computer. Brett shot me underwater with a backdrop separately as well. I needed an incredible amount of strength and stamina, as I had to continuously dive 10 feet underwater. I had to fix my hair, relax my face, emote, and position my body in a completely disorienting medium. Holding a pose without gravity’s help is not easy. Needless to say, it was a challenging experience, but it all came together beautifully.

What’s the message?

By creating these images, we hope to shine light on global overfishing, and also help people understand that we can shift the market away from unsustainable seafood, if we so choose. The online campaigns hope to tie into a behavioral-change challenge — to create a new habit over a 30-day period. We ask was that those who watch the video and look at the images buy only sustainable seafood going forward, using the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guides. Use hashtag #JellyfishSoup online to share your progress with us.

It is time, now, for us to change. To choose differently. To shape a vision of an ocean with a future. My hope is that these image campaigns reach critical mass and people around the world realize that Jellyfish Soup isn’t inevitable. We each have the power to make change.

By guest author Christine Ren

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