Cate Vail has made a profession and career of mermaid photography. It all started with visiting a museum with a large mermaid statue in New Jersey. I asked Cate to a write about it here on the Mermaids of Earth blog:
by Cate Vail
Mermaids have always been a part of my life. As a child, growing up on the East Coast of New Jersey, one of my earliest memories was visiting a museum that had a huge mermaid statue at the entrance.
I remember being amazed by that, and asking the grown ups in my life, if mermaids were real. I was told that they were imaginary, a lot like fairies, only they lived in the sea.
My grandmother bought me the Hans Christian Andersen classic, “The Little Mermaid”, a book that stood the test of time, for not only was it my favorite bedtime story, but it was also a pivotal pictorial outlet that influenced my creative artwork.
I began to draw mermaids, first as sketches, than graduated to painting them in art classes at school. I used to wrap my Barbie dolls in tin foil with the shape of a mermaid tail. I played with them in the bathtub, and even cut their hair, because of the story. I also played mermaid dress up with my sisters, and re-enacted the scenes from the book. I had my own mermaid tail that mom helped me make, and day-dreamed about becoming a real mermaid.
Swimming, building sand castles, beach scavenging were activities very enjoyable to me, and still are.
My family moved to Victoria, BC, Canada after my father started a new job as a Political Science teacher at University of Victoria. We lived in a house near the ocean, and I didn’t know it at the time, but Victoria is considered to be the “Mermaid Capital of Canada”. Mermaid inspired statues, artwork, stores, and island living were the backdrop to my further exploration of mermaids.
Local folklore in Victoria rumored actual sightings of mermaids in the late 1960’s, and early 1970’s. News clippings from that era document several sightings up and along the coastlines, bays, and inlets of Vancouver Island, BC. Many stories were told about the probable existence of a pod of mermaid creatures that were actually photographed by local fishermen. This was all very dramatic for me, as I spent many years reading novels, researching mermaids, and other mythological creatures.
I was beginning to believe that they truly must exist. I spent a huge amount of time at a beach, Cadboro Bay, which was walking distance from my house. By the time I was 10; I had my own Polaroid camera, and became very interested in photography. I knew that if I could get an actual picture of a mermaid, people would have to believe. I never did get to capture a mermaid on film, but I sure thought they were still out there somewhere. I used to swim with a huge log to keep me afloat, in search of mermaids, ever watchful, but to no avail.
As I grew, my teenage years interrupted the fanciful daydreams of mermaids. High school brought new challenges, new friends, and an insistence on fact and reality. Scientific method was learned, mathematical probability, and statistics. Mermaids didn’t quite fit within that realm, so I put mermaids aside and focused on being a teenager. I had an exciting teenage life full of wonderful experiences that I credit to having both parents as school teachers.
My photography was becoming increasingly important as an outlet for my creative natural personality. I even took the photographs for my high school yearbook, and was co-editor of the yearbook my graduation year. My father and mother both encouraged participation in the arts, but it was my mother who inspired me to study art and humanities in college.
“Splash” and Photography
Mermaids became an important pastime in my little daughter’s life, not unlike her mother; she had quite the penchant for the story, “The Little Mermaid”. However, Disney made the popular classic into a cartoon movie, and commercialism being what it is, came out with dolls, figurines, and all kinds of memorabilia that circled the globe making “Ariel”, an iconic figure in mainstream American culture.
We collected “mermaidabilia”, and had an epic moment. The actual Ariel character from Disney visited Tacoma Mall in the early 1990’s, and we were part of that event. My husband’s mall that he managed sponsored the event, and I took pictures of my daughter and her friends meeting mermaid Ariel. Samantha even had the opportunity of sitting on her lap, having her “Little Mermaid” jersey signed by the illustrious mermaid at the opening ceremonies.
The movie, “Splash”, starring Daryl Hanna, and Tom Hanks came out in full glory in 1984. I saw it on the big screen at the theatre, and purchased the movie for my VCR when it came out later. The realistic mermaid tail was incredible looking. I really enjoy this particular film for its comedic tale, and the underwater photographic scenes that are vibrantly unforgettable for mermaid enthusiasts. The mermaid bath tub scene is my favorite part of the movie. Most of my photography during this timeframe was landscape, nature, and children, for; I was a mother of 3 growing young children and documented their every movement.
My career as an assistant buyer for Allied Department stores aided my abilities, and lead to an exciting position in advertising where I was trained to photograph product, learned branding (before it was called that), and how to network in my field. Photography of jewelry displays, and accessories for major ad campaigns became my specialty, and I settled into writing ad copy for 40+ stores.
It was not until what I term, a “happy accident”, that I even thought of mermaids again. I had photographed a model wearing a long wool blend scarf by Vittadini for a bill insert mailer. The scarf was a beautiful bold purple, with lilac embellishments on the ends. The scarf had been wrapped around the model’s legs, and upper torso. In the development process, somehow the negative had been damaged, and the resulting prints were unusable because of blurring. The blurred image reminded me of a mermaid tail, so without knowing it, I had taken my first mermaid photo totally by accident. Little did I know that in the future I would be photographing mermaids, and meeting some famous mermaids from around the globe.
Desert Mermaids / Sirens Photography
Many people have said, “Do what you love with a passion, and everything else will fall into place”; I attest that is absolutely true. My first mermaid photo shoot in Nevada actually wasn’t even my idea. A local model that I was working with wanted to do a fantasy character photo shoot for her portfolio. Her grandmother designed for her a goldfish looking mermaid tail, and she asked me to photograph her. I networked with another photographer that knew a few models, and we all decided to make it a group mermaid photo shoot.
South Lake Tahoe has a beautiful place called Zephyr Cove that looks like an ocean coastline with its giant monolith rocks, spurs, blue water, and sandy beach front. The first shoot was done there, with a barbeque, and camp out at the adjoining campsites near the lake. It was such a magical looking scene with mermaids perched on rocks, and the beautiful sunset bursting through the sky. Onlookers had quite a treat that day at Tahoe. It’s not everyday that you see mermaids, especially at Lake Tahoe.
My photographs were noticed by a mermaid tail vendor, Jerilyn Winstead, an entrepreneurial guru that had started her own business a few years prior to our actual meeting. Her company, Aquatails, is a mermaid tail, and accessories based business that designs tails for all ages, not just children. Her website wanted to feature my work, so I agreed, and pretty soon I was photographing for Aquatails as a regular team member. I purchased many of the tails, and began looking for models to wear new tail designs that Jerilyn had designed.
I found many women, children, and men that were interested in posing in a mermaid tail for websites, and for an international mermaid magazine, “ Mermaids and Mythology”. I have a growing collection of mermaid tails and love to make that transition into Mermaid Cate at each photo shoot. I encourage all the models to come up with alter-mer ego names: ( Aqualina, Mermaid Aura, Coralina, etc…)
I met other mermaid photographers that had their own business models, and soon devised my own, “Sirens Photography”. I specialize in mermaid fantasy driven photos shoots and frequently use the beauty of Lake Tahoe as my backdrop. I am also an event photographer and take photos of celebrities, concerts, red carpets, and special events in Reno, Tahoe, Las Vegas, and Florida.
Last year I had the opportunity to combine both while attending the First Annual Merpalooza Mermaid Convention in Orlando, Florida. I photographed famous mermaids like, Hanna Fraser, Medusa Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Maui Merman, Thom Shouse (the designer of the Splash Mermaid tail for the movie, Splash), Eric Ducharme, the Mertailor, Traci Hines, ( The Little Mermaid Ariel) and many more. I am now very well known for my mermaid photography, and my mermaid persona. I have quite a following on facebook, and know many mermaid enthusiasts, designers, and merfolk from around the globe.
In April 2013, I was interviewed by Channel 2 News Neda Iranpour about Sirens Photography and my book, Mermaids Among Us, and my calendars that I put out seasonally. I have additionally been interviewed on Spreecast programs, Orlando Sentinel News for Merpalooza (video segment), and my work was shown on “The Today Show” (AquaTails segment with Jerilyn Winstead). Just recently I was interviewed on a popular weekly radio talk show in Reno, Nevada as a guest speaker for “Integrity Casting Call on Broadview 101.3 FM Talk Radio.
Mermaids are definitely a trending pop culture phenomena that I think will hold fast and strong for many years to come. Many people ask me why Mermaids have become such a trend to which I must say…. “It’s a voice, a movement if you will both ecologically based , and psychologically a pursuit of transformation, a becoming of one with the sea environment through conservation efforts.”( Cate Vail, 2013).
Many famous mermaids have joined causes, or are the founders of charitable organizations to better the plight of marine animals that coexist on the planet. I believe that the duality of the mermaid: half human, half fish symbolizes our stewardship and accountability with the planet. Hannah Fraser is one mermaid who agrees with me:
Just recently, Feb, 2013, Hanna Fraser made a video about Manta Rays with Blue Sphere Media: “Manta Ray of Hope Campaign” . The video captures the beauty and intimacy of an encounter with manta rays, a dwindling, and threatened species that are being slaughtered for their gills for medicinal tonics in China and Asia. There are many other examples of mermaids stepping up, and embracing a cause to bring awareness, and activism with positive results.
As I watch the transformation of the people that become mermaids for Sirens Photography, I often feel their soul. The gap between the inner and outer crumbles, and a calming, yet regal personality emerges. Being an empath, I’m highly aware to that change in each person. I’ve seen some transformations that mimicked Divine intervention. A couple that was getting engaged did a romantic photo shoot with me a couple of years ago in South Lake Tahoe. Billowy clouds in the background formed a perfect heart shape right behind them. I photographed the mermaids as they sat, hugging and kissing, unaware that the clouds mirrored their love for each other.
I highly encourage my clients to step into character, become a mermaid in the true sense of the word; interact with the flora and fauna of the place, embrace the beauty of nature around them. Anyone who has ever wanted to break out of the mold of a restricted, conventional life will find “Mermaids Among Us” an Epiphany of delight.
Our motto is :”Always Be Yourself, but If You Can Be A Mermaid Than Always Be A Mermaid.”
I coined the phrase, “ Mermaids Among Us”, as the title of my work, but it also has meaning beyond that for me personally. Through a curios turn of events, my search for mermaids as a child was not in vain, for they have found me; and live among us.
I have heard the mermaids singing each to each
I don’t think they will sing to me.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us and we drown
She then began to sing, so I could not,
except with pain, have drawn my eyes away.
‘I am’ she sang, ‘I am the lovely siren’
So full of pleasure to ear my tune
that mariners I magic in mid-ocean
And Ulysses, entranced to hear my song,
I turned off course. Rarely do those who’ve learned
my ways depart. I bring them full content.
– T.S. Elliot
Awesome article so inspiring in all aspects really happy for you, and im so proud to know you my Cate <3