Chris Leidy is an artist of the ocean. After burning out on the film industry, he returned to his saltwater roots as a photographer, his work portraying the complexities and subtleties of life beneath the waves with an eye to the abstract and the unexpected. An adventurer by nature—he describes himself as “wild”—Leidy’s sharp eye helps him capture the beauty of our oceans in all their guises. The Palm Beach native is also the grandson of iconic fashion designer Lily Pulitzer; the impulse to create runs in his veins.
“By showing humans the jaw-dropping beauties of the seas, it is my hope that they will be encouraged to save and protect what is seen in my work,” Leidy explains of his drive.
Describe yourself in three words.
Passionate, spontaneous, wild.
How do you see those words reflected in your identity as an artist?
I am extremely PASSIONATE about underwater photography and the lifestyle my work has blessed me to be able to live. I am passionate about learning and exploring our fragile world. I am passionate about sharing the ocean with people who don’t get the chance to see what I see, what I find to be beautiful.
I am SPONTANEOUS because I get the urge to go and I go. I see a destination that needs to be photographed the way I photograph, and I’m on the next plane. I am also spontaneous when it comes to shooting because I photograph what is normally swam past by others. I shoot quickly and naturally, with a spontaneous finger.
WILD I am wild. I tend to like to going where others won’t. I like to push the limits a little… and then some. I like being in the middle of sharks without a cage. I like to be under the ice by myself. I like to be alone in the water when others wouldn’t dare to be alone. I like to swim in the depths at night. I dream wild.
Was there a specific experience that inspired you to pursue photography as a profession?
I worked in the film industry in LA and NYC for 5 years before I got burnt out on the grind. The ocean has always beckoned me from early childhood up until this very second I write this, as I sit on the beach gazing out into her vastness. I went home, back to Florida, with every intention of taking my love for the camera on a date with my long time mistress, the ocean. When we finally all met, we knew that this was it. This is what we were going to do with the rest of our lives.
How did you find your true inspiration in the oceans of the world?
Salt water has always coursed through my veins. I grew up in and on the water from day one. I was always happiest in the salt water. I honestly can’t say I had an “aha moment.” I guess I have a built-in eye for the imagery that I find interesting.
Is there a particular vision you strive to portray through your work?
Absolutely. I want my viewers to be moved in some way by what they are looking at. Whether it’s confusion, happiness, sadness, awareness, anything – I want them to be personally affected by my work. I don’t care how, I just want it to happen.
Has that vision changed at all over time?
It sure has. I started out shooting what I thought other people liked and wanted to see- wide angle imagery with cascading coral reefs, sharks in the emptiness of the ocean- factual imagery, imagery that made sense. I looked at work by people like Paul Nicklen, David Doublet, and other National Geographic photographers and just assumed that people wanted that vibe without even taking into account what I myself wanted to create. So I ditched that approach and took up my own aesthetic.
I did what I wanted to do. I shot the way I wanted to shoot. I went where I wanted to go. I was me.
This brought extreme relief for me. It allowed me to break down barriers of public norms and let the eye of the beholder, me, come to the surface.
What aspect of the oceans fascinates you the most?
Everything about her fascinates me all the time. I love the fact that we literally know more about space than our oceans. I find that incredibly fascinating… and a bit idiotic as well. I like how you never know what to expect when submerging yourself. I am fascinated by her strength and her ability. I am fascinated by her grace and fragility. I am fascinated by her expanse and the way she lulls me into a meditative state when under her surface. She is just the absolute coolest.
Do you have a favorite “subject” within the ocean to photograph?
Not really. I tend to take off my blinders when swimming in the ocean. This frees up my creative eye; lets my imagination wander. If I go in the water with a specific object or creature to photograph, I tend to miss the best part.
Have you gone through any transformations—educationally, intellectually, spiritually—during your time working closely with the ocean?
Yes. I am almost 8 years sober and in this time I have experienced a lot of death with the ones I hold closest to my heart. My dad and my grandmother a couple months apart, three dogs in one year, and a few really close personal and family friends. This has caused me to be strong when feeling vulnerable, very much like when floating in the ocean—always vulnerable, and always needing to push through your fears. I am a believer in God and when I am swimming I feel the most connected to Him. We vibe. We talk. We kid with one another. It’s a magical feeling when you’re miles out to see with nobody around but you and the one you choose to call God.
Would you say that your family history has influenced your work/life in any way?
Yes I do. I am extremely proud of my family and the legacies I live up to. My grandmother was an unreal human who taught me so much. We were super close and vibed on a creative front big-time. She was and still is someone I go to for advice and inspiration. Her textiles are so unique and fresh. I often see her light shine through in my work. Especially the close up abstracts and textures of ocean life, i.e. corals, sea fans, fish scales etc.
What’s one thing that fans of your work might not know about you?
I love the depths of the ocean, but I get kinda freaked out by heights. I’ve sky dived and bungee jumped a few times, but when I’m standing on the edge of something I always feel weird—like I could jump and stick the landing.