Jellyfish Soup: Combining Photography and Conservation

Jellyfish Soup: Combining Photography and Conservation

After changing careers from 12 years in the scientific field into the photography industry, I often wondered about merging the two together; science and art. I started shooting underwater photography a few years back in hopes of bringing a new light on the waters with my background. So when I came across the work of Christine Beggs and Brett Stanley I was intrigued to learn about their collaborations. They have created a way to bring critical issues of the oceans to light with their underwater art work.

The two paired up in order to convey the issues at hand. They were determined to create the connection and combine these worlds.

To be honest, I joked with friends and colleagues for years that I just needed to combine all my passions - dance, ocean science, and media - into one and to stop feeling constantly pulled in so many directions. "I'll make an underwater dance troupe," I would exclaim jokingly to them - the whole time secretly carrying it in my heart as one of my deepest desires.

Beggs' background includes a Master's degree in Marine Affairs and Policy, focusing in conservation and anthropology, from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS). "This was an interdisciplinary program aimed at equipping students with the tools to create bridges between science, advocacy and policy in the workforce," wrote Beggs. "It was during my time at RSMAS, that I had the opportunity to intern at WPT-2, a PBS affiliate in Miami, on the award-winning series, 'The Changing Seas.'" She also holds an advanced open water scuba certification, while running an ecommerce business, and more than 20 years as a classical ballet dancer. 

She states that when we talk about making an impact that there is this fallacy that we can fall into.

It is impossible as one person, to make any difference, especially in the face of monumental global environmental issues. As a dancer and filmmaker, after pirouetting my way from science to a master’s in ocean policy and advocacy, there's a truth I’ve uncovered in my journey... that there exists a singularly unique way for each of us to effect change, with our own individualized talents and skills.

She was looking for that one person who was willing to step outside the box to work on these ideas. For her, that person was Brett Stanley, a photographer who brought the idea for an underwater dance conservation image series to life. For over six years Beggs said she has been sketching her ideas on to drawing pads trying to work out a plan for when the timing was right. Stanley came on board and carried these ideas to life.

"Jellyfish soup" is a metaphor that is used in the conservation world for overfishing. "The idea is that, as a society, we are hooked. Hooked on fossil fuels. Hooked on seafood trawled from the bottom of the ocean. Hooked on lifestyles in discord with the rhythms of nature. With so many lines in the water, we're fast on a slippery slide towards slime; an ocean so overfished by our appetites and greed that future generations will only have jellyfish soup left to dine on." Beggs said during a phone conversation.

Image Courtesy Brett Stanley


Behind the Scenes

The process on these images were intense. She worked with a costume designer, Laura Hazlett, to fabricate her outfit from scratch. Sarah Kugelmass, a prop master was commissioned to create scientifically-accurate jellyfish, the Black Sea Nettle species that are native to California waters. The pre-production aspects took months to assemble and the shooting time was about 4-5 hours. Utilizing a deep pool from a dive shop, Brett did the technical setup of shooting each of the props separately in the pool then compositing them together in post. Beggs was shot as well underwater in specific dance moves to convey the message. Diving down ten feet for this time span was a bit of a challenge for Beggs but she wrote that it was all worth it for the final image.

Discussions for the placement of the hooked Jellyfish for each shot

Beggs utilizing the rest and safety rope between shots

Future Projects

"Blind Spots" is another project that they are working on with the video release in mid November. "The images are satirical underwater plastic pollution portraits tied in with a 30 day behavioral change campaign." Beggs wrote. "Blinded" by how much plastic consumption happens on a daily bases, the two created this 30 day challenge to promote viewers to take a look at just how much plastic was utilized in a day to day basis.

Image Courtesy Brett Stanley

Image Courtesy Brett Stanley

The message of the art images is to shine light on the issue of global overfishing and also help people understand that we have the power to shift the market away from unsustainable seafood, if we so choose.

The goal of the online campaigns is to tie into a behavioral change challenge - to create a new habit over a 30 day period. She asks that the viewers of the video and images buy only sustainable seafood using the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guides and use hashtag #JellyfishSoup to share their progress online.

Additionally, she has just wrapped a shoot in Phuket, Thailand, with the photographer Adriano Trapani. It was shooting a concept to raise awareness about coral bleaching which was executed in the open ocean and staged underwater on a dead, broken reef.

 It is time, now, for us to change. To choose differently. To shape a vision of an ocean with a future. And my hope is that these image campaigns reach critical mass and people participate in the challenges around the world.

At the end of the day, whatever it is you love, never stop continuing to show up for it.


Following the Progress

Keep up with Beggs and Stanley on the upcoming projects as well as the 30 day challenge on Facebook or Instagram.


Jennifer Tallerico's picture

JT is known throughout the International Boudoir Photography Industry and the region for her unique approach to Fine Art Photography. Her underwater work as JT Aqua is ethereal based and conceptual. She is an educator, writer and currently teaching workshops for underwater and boudoir.

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1 Comment

Oh My Gosh, this is amazing!!!!!