Megan Barrett: More Than a Woman Swimming with a Camera

I was always a water baby. I was born on a rainy Atlantic island and then moved to the warmer, drier California a few years later. I spent my first years swimming, diving and spending as much time submerged as I possibly could. I didn’t think to bring a camera into my favorite hobby until a few years ago when I realized how much I wanted to capture what I see in diving and swimming. There is so much that happens in the few meters above and below the surface of the water that many people never get to see. My goal in photography has always been to capture those images that are ever-present in my head after I get out of the water so I can share them with others. I am endlessly enthralled by the relationship between water and light and the water and the humans or animals that spend their time in it. 

When I am in the water, whether it is diving, or swimming in the lineup at one of the surf breaks near my home, as a woman I have always been the minority. There are more and more water women every day, but presently, and for the foreseeable future, it is very much a male-dominated realm. I don’t let this bother me because when I’m in the water, I feel like I’m in my own world, focused on what I’m trying to capture. I have had some men in the lineup act with surprise that I’m out there swimming around, especially in bigger surf. I’ve been asked if I need help, or if I know how heavy the break is. Usually, I just smile and say I’m fine and laugh it off. I know my own limits, and I feel confident in the waves that I swim in and the breaks that I shoot.

One of my greatest assets in the water is how interested people are in the specific camera that I use. I shoot with a Nikonos III, a 35mm camera, that is itself entirely waterproof with no need for bulky housing. It was first sold in 1975 and it definitely looks its age. People are naturally drawn to ask about my camera and start a conversation with me about it in the water. I hope that people’s intrigue in the Nikonos and the images I produce is what creates an interest in my photography, and not the fact that I am a woman swimming with a camera. 

Words and film photography by Megan Barrett