Underwater Photographer Heather Perry Dives Deep and Looks Up

Is it crazy to think that people are at their most natural in the water?

The Colby College swim team in Waterville, Maine Heather Perry
“In my dreams, I imagine not needing to surface at all,” says freediving photographer Perry, who took this picture in the British Virgin Islands. Heather Perry
The Bowdoin College swim team poses for photographer Heather Perry in Brunswick, Maine. Heather Perry
Swimmers off Guana Island in the British Virgin Islands Heather Perry

Sharing a pool with the Bowdoin College swim team was like “being in the water with sea otters,” says Heather Perry, who captured this playful moment while holding her breath at the bottom of the pool. Many aquatic photographers use scuba gear, but Perry prefers freediving (she feels that a breathing apparatus would just get in her way). The Maine native, who began her career as a marine biologist, has returned to the water again and again in her two decades behind the camera, using the medium to explore the question of our place in the natural world. Certainly the most buoyant answer can be found in her portraits of swimmers, bubbly images revealing the freedom and joy that people of all ages and shapes find in the water. “It’s the only place on earth you can feel truly weightless,” she says. “We’re made of water, we come from water, and I think it’s the place the human body is most at home.”

Subscribe to Smithsonian magazine now for just $12

This article is a selection from the June issue of Smithsonian magazine