Inside a New Photography Zine Inspired by Afrofuturistic Merfolks

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WATER••COLOURPhotography by Lucie Rox, Make-up by Crystabel Riley

Created in collaboration with make-up artist Crystabel Riley, photographer Lucie Rox’s new zine WATER••COLOUR takes inspiration from Rivers Solomon’s Afrofuturist merfolk story, The Deep

“After this past year, I started to feel a disconnect between the work I was making and the work I wanted to create,” says London-based photographer Lucie Rox, as her second self-published zine WATER••COLOUR is released. “I came to a point where I needed to do something for me.”

A world away from her first zine SIGNS, published in 2019, which represented a warm, documentary-style portrait of Japan, WATER••COLOUR is an immersion into a highly-stylised underwater fantasy Rox conceived of with her friend and collaborator, make-up artist Crystabel Riley. Rox found initial inspiration for the story in Rivers Solomon’s Lambda Literary Award-winning novella The Deep, which depicts a utopian underwater society populated by water-breathing merfolk, who descended from enslaved pregnant women thrown overboard slave ships.

Moved by the Afrofuturist novella’s rich visual world and affecting themes of memory, identity, ecological devastation, and transformation, Rox and Riley decided upon a deep-sea narrative exploring “the relationship between skin and landscape, and how this could come together through the prism of Blackness.”

“I had just finished the book when we started chatting about the project with Crystabel,” remembers Rox. “In my head, I kept going back to the characters of the books: Afrofuturistic merfolks. We kept the reference quite loose as we didn’t want it to be so literal, but the poetic atmosphere of the book stayed with me for a while through the project.” 

The resulting zine takes the form of 20 beautiful unbound pages, in which models Ajok Daing and Akuol Deng Atem are transformed through watery hues of light, shadowy abstraction, and glistening and gilded make-up looks into “near-mythical creatures”. “Afrofuturism gave us an interesting frame through which to look at beauty and its representation linked to Black womanhood,” says Rox. “Less in terms of aesthetic, but in the idea that we can imagine our own kind of future, our own kind of visual poetics with which we can try and push the boundaries of what Black and beauty imagery can mean in relation to each other.”

For the zine’s mythical make-up looks, Riley – who is known for her zero-waste approach to beauty – carefully selected products which consider the oceans and global and local connectivity, using Black owned and ‘green’ beauty brands like The Glowcery, Wildseed Botanical, Kjear Weis, RMS, and Kitaka of London. Unusual raw natural materials like clay, sea salt, and gold leaf were also skillfully mixed in to create the underwater characters. “We were really focused around skin as a whole, not just face, and it felt important to include a little bit of body in the story,” says Rox of the zine, which also features creations by some of London’s most exciting emerging designers – from Sinéad O’Dwyer’s second skin silicone pieces and Di Petsa wet look dress, to Supriya Lele’s sensual silhouettes and Alighieri’s shell jewellery. 

“I wanted the final object to feel as personal as possible,” says Rox of the decision to publish the zine in loose, unbound pages. “With this format, people can change the order, take pages in and out as they wish, or frame it.” Reflecting on the process of creating WATER••COLOUR amid these strange times, Rox says, “For the first time in a while, I had time to reconnect art and creativity in a very organic way, without the pressure of the industry around … To be honest, I am just so proud of what we have done that I am just excited it is out there in the world.”

WATER••COLOUR is available now

Hair by Tomi Roppongi, Casting by Emilie Åström, Models Ajok Daing and Akuol Deng Atem.