Canadian photographer Lucas Murnaghan doesn’t mind the smell of chlorine at this point.
For the past two years, he’s taken photographs of rather muscular men in incredible underwater environments.
Blue-tiled swimming pools and Calvin Klein y-fronts aren’t a bad way to get an Instagram following, let alone a book and exhibition deal.
Beneath the Surface: An Underwater Photographic Exploration is the name of Lucas’ solo-exhibition and book.
Launched this week, the free exhibit will run from 21 February until 2 March 2019 at Surf the Greats in Toronto.
From Instagram to an exhibit
Talking to Gay Star News, Lucas admitted the double-launch is ‘a bit overwhelming.’
‘My underwater exploration has gone on for a couple years now. It started back in 2017 on Instagram.’
Lucas’ shots made waves on the photo-sharing app which regularly gain tens of thousands of likes.
‘But at the same time, as wonderful a platform it was, it wasn’t how I wanted my images to be seen.
‘On a little mobile device while someone is on the subway as opposed to in a larger, concrete format.
‘As a child of the 70s and 80s, I’m used to photos being seen in books, album covers or hung on walls.
‘Having a physical version of my photos is what I wanted.’
Water as a ‘transformative medium’
With nearly 100 pages, the book includes a foreword by Alan Cumming, preface by Lucas, personal responses by collaborators and 70 curated images.
Yet, whether digitally or physically seen, Lucas stressed there’s more to the photographs than abs and biceps.
He said: ‘I hope people will appreciate the underlying meaning behind the photos.
‘There’s space for the casual observer to assume the photos are just boy images of hot guys under water.
‘But I’m really trying to use water as a transformative medium to access deeper-seated notions or childhood memories that we carry into adulthood.
‘Perhaps by expressing our underlying baggage through artist mediums, we can better understand ourselves.’
How it all started
For the exhibition, he and his partner Antonio Lennert will transform their co-owned surf shop, Surf the Greats, into an immersive gallery experience.
This will help viewers dive deep into Lucas’ images, all 70 of them.
But photography started as a hobby for Lucas, whose full-time job is a surgeon at a hospital in Toronto.
Surf photography was the diving board; around December 2016 Lucas began to experiment with underwater photography while shooting a swim team.
‘Documenting people swimming, while interesting, was not emotionally evocative.
‘It wasn’t until I photographed the swimmers standing at the bottom of the pool essentially doing nothing that I realized I tapped into something.
‘The casual improbability of doing regular things in an underwater environment, now that was evocative.’
From Hawaii to Tennessee
What have been Lucas’ favorite places to shoot? Bruce Peninsula, Ontario (‘it’s an underwater theatre’) was one.
Regular swimming pools (‘it’s a second subject in the photo’), too, alongside Hawaii and California.
But a high school pool in Memphis, Tennessee was top.
‘There was something particular about that pool that I wanted to capture,’ he said.
Titled ‘One is the loneliest number’ (above) the model was set to be a professional swimmer who pulled out at the last minute.
‘I was in a city I didn’t live in trying to find a model willing to hop in a pool in a pair of briefs the next morning!’
The ‘willing volunteer’, who Lucas found on social media, ‘even managed to remove his briefs’ for the shoot.
Mexico and the Maldives are next on the location list, as are the cold waters of Iceland.
You can check out more images on his Instagram.