I founded the Underwater Transformation Project ten years ago after realizing the power of underwater portrait photography to overcome incredible obstacles. Over the last nine years our small nonprofit has been helping cancer and trauma survivors find solace and transform their lives. For the project’s 10 year anniversary, we are fundraising to serve 22 more survivors and thrivers this year. Because this is a volunteer-run organization, 100% of your donations will go toward the operational costs of photography sessions (primarily pool rental, equipment maintenance, accommodation and transportation).
I know firsthand the restorative power of water. I am the survivor of a traumatic car accident that killed my father and left me with a fractured body and brain injury. It was a miracle I survived. Scuba diving and underwater photography became a transformative part of my own emotional and physical recovery process. Later, when I began photographing cancer survivors, I realized the potential for underwater photography to restore joy and a sense of beauty to other trauma survivors. I saw how the powerful experience of total immersion that one has in the water, combined with portrait photography, can help others who have been traumatized by domestic violence, PTSD, chronic pains, gender dysphoria, and physical disabilities.
In his book “The Healing Power of Water,” Dr. Bruce E. Becker, a clinical professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, explores the substantial physiological and psychological benefits of total immersion in the water. According to Dr. Becker, “Scientific knowledge of the physiology of immersion has dramatically expanded during the past decades, revealing a great many positive impacts of the aquatic environment on the human body.” Reflecting on this project, Dr. Becker shared that “Erena Shimoda’s photos are beautiful, of course, and the ability of the water to facilitate freedom is unique on earth.” A 2009 publication by Cristina Nuñez in the European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counseling draws a link between portrait photography and developing a sense of self. While Nuñez’s research focuses on self portrait photography, her findings suggest additional overall benefits “Facing the camera lens and releasing the shutter immediately takes us to our first essential process of the definition of the self: the recognition of our image in the mirror…By forcing us into the Now, it can help us perceive and express our essential humanity in a photograph.”
Those who have been photographed through this project find that it helps them to overcome trauma and feel more authentically themselves. They say that the power of water combined with the creative process have helped report improved mental health, self-esteem, self-confidence, well-being, and resilience following their portrait sessions. Sammy shared that, “I think the shoot really helped me to be more comfortable with my body and enjoy who I am…this felt really good to be so open and celebrated.” While Ashlee shared, “I absolutely believe this experience is a huge step in overcoming some of the trauma I experienced.” Manu said, “I think underwater therapy can be very healing for survivors & I would recommend using this as an adjunct to therapy work. I think a lot of trauma can be released with this intentional practice.” Read dozens of stories from those who have found transformation through this project on our website.
Our goal is to make this therapeutic activity available to more people who need it. As a small, volunteer-run nonprofit organization, your donations go directly to project costs, which include photography equipment, pool rental fees, and modest travel costs to reach survivors.
We invite you to join us in supporting this life-changing project. Your donation will help us deliver transformational underwater portrait sessions to 22 more survivors and thrivers this year and help us continue to offer powerful healing to more people in need. Thank you for your generous support!
Projected Costs to Deliver 22 More Photography Sessions in 2023:*
$8,600: Transportations (airfares $5,000, car rentals $3,600, and public transportation to reach survivors)
$2,200: Pool rentals
$3,700: Accommodations for out of town sessions
and Transaction fees
*Note that these are projections as travel and rental costs vary based on a survivor’s location.These projections are estimated based on the organization’s past costs. Every effort is made to reduce costs, including bundling sessions together, when appropriate, finding budget accommodations and transportation, and all time/labor being provided on a voluntary basis. (Erena works full time to be able to offer this service.)
22 Survivors and thrivers who will be served by your donations:
Anitra – Breast cancer
Angelica – Domestic violence
Jo – Breast cancer
Kevin – Suicide
Atsuko – Breast cancer
Brittany – Multiple sclerosis, Breast cancer
Mike – Veteran
Dan – Veteran
Isami – Human trafficking
Dean – Leukemia and lymphoma
Sam – Fibular hemimelia
Mabel – Breast cancer
Kunisha – Burn
Caitlin – Accident
Bret – Breast cancer
Michael – Veteran, breast cancer
Virginia (Virginia beach)
BJ – Kidney cancer
Nekeia – Breast cancer
Hans – Stomach cancer
Aya – Breast cancer
Ruby – Autism