I love how Andrew’s Weeki photos feel like they could have come straight from way back when, from the days when Weeki put on elaborate, choreographed shows like “Mermaids on the Moon” and “Alice in Waterland,” and yet they all have an unmistakably modern, diamond-sharp edge to them, too. Also, I am very jealous that a whole pile of manatees showed up for the shoot, managing to weasel their way into many of the shots. Yours truly will return to Weeki next month and I might have to haul an elaborate camera under the water to lure those fame-seekers back!
Anyway, I recently asked Andrew many illuminating questions about the calendar, Weeki Wachee, being an exceptional mermaid beau, and mermaids generally.
So how did you get to be so involved with mermaids?
Growing up on a small island on the west coast of Florida and surfing most of my life, I’ve always been around water and had plenty of time to dream up what was swimming below the surface. Mermaids were always at the top of my list.
What’s the appeal of mermaids to you? Why do you think they’re so popular?
Throughout history, wherever there’s a body of water there’s some form of a mermaid myth, so either mermaids are just part of the collective unconscious or they really did or do exist. Ninety-five-percent of the ocean is undiscovered so they can’t be ruled out. As for their popularity, I think as a race we are always looking for mythic stories and images to distract us from our everyday lives and I think mermaids do a good job of that, flying freely through the oceans without a care. And of course women want to be them and men want to be with them.
When did you first visit Weeki Wachee and why is it such a special place to you?
I was a wide-eyed five-year-old on my first visit and ever since I’ve had a consistent ongoing image running through my mind of the great Weeki Wachee mermaids. Years later, while living in New York City, I heard about Weeki’s “Save our Tails” campaign to raise funds and awareness for the park and reached out to Robyn Anderson and John Athanason to donate my services. I’m really stoked with the projects that we’ve done together through the years. I find them much more rewarding than my day job of photographing for magazines and advertising.
Having the world-famous Weeki Wachee mermaids as your focus point and the beauty of the natural spring as your studio is a dream come true. I am constantly amazed by their athleticism and grace and how they make it look so easy. Believe me, it’s not! The Weeki Wachee Spring truly is a miracle of nature and one of the great fountains of youth, all you have to do is watch the former mermaids perform like giddy teenagers again to know that it’s magical. The water is around 100 years old when it comes out of the spring’s head after filtering through the limestone aquifer at a rate of over 165 million gallons a day. It’s the clearest water I have ever photographed in, and that’s pretty special to me. I hope in some way that we can help raise awareness about Florida’s springs and aquifer and how vulnerable the whole system has become. Many are slowly being affected by the heavy use of nitrates from fertilizers and some have dried up all together because of Florida’s increasing need of water. I think the recent rise in sink holes is giving us a wake-up call to pay attention to what is happening below the surface.
Can you tell me about the Weeki Wachee calendars you’ve done? What was the inspiration for 2014?
This is the fourth calendar that we’ve done with Weeki over the years (and the fourth in Weeki’s history). In the past we based the themes on the holidays of each month, like a Mermaid Witch on a broom stick for October, a Mermaid Bunny for April, and so on. This year we wanted to make it about the mermaids and the spring itself, more natural, plus we were excited to have the Mertailor/Eric Ducharme’s tails involved.
The day we arrived to start shooting, a herd of ten manatees arrived in the spring and stayed for four days until the day we left. I’ve never heard of that many manatees hanging over a period of days at Weeki. It was great to see and incorporate what seafarers from the past thought to be the original mermaids, the manatees, along with the Weeki mermaids. Talk about natural magic! It was one of my all-time top experiences.
I grew up on old Florida and the kitsch that went with it so we try to keep a little of that in how we shoot and design the calendars. Weeki Wachee is the last of the pre-Mouse invasion attractions that has not only survived but is thriving.
What is it like dating a famous mermaid? =) Are you constantly covered in glitter and scales?
I had to get over the glitter thing years ago, I’d be on a shoot and someone would come up and say, “umm you know you’re covered …” and I’d be like “I know, I know.” Now I’m just “yep, that’s right, got a problem?” Bambi the Mermaid is the smartest and most fun-loving mermaid I’ve ever met and a true genius at her craft. We’ve shared a lot through the years, she’s my best friend and my true soul mate. Don’t get me wrong, she can cast a long shadow of a tale, but I’ve been able to hold my own so far. In the last couple of calendars we’ve had a “Find Bambi” game with small hidden images of her throughout the calendar. This year she’s limited in her hiding but she’s there.
Can you tell me about your experiences at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade?
In 1988 when I first moved to NYC I was hired by Travel and Leisure Magazine to shoot portraits of the mermaids and the participants in the parade and it was an absolute blast. I’ve had some incredible fun over the years at, in and around the parade but I’m a lover of its early days as a smaller art parade. These days it’s great if you’re in the parade but as a viewer it’s gotten a little too crowded for my taste with way too many ornery photographers (I tell everyone I’m a plumber that day).
I know you’ve also photographed Bambi the Mermaid all over the world. Can you tell me about that?
We’ve created projects everywhere from Weeki to the islands of Fiji. One of the best was an awesome trip to Turtle Island, where they shot the movie Blue Lagoon. I’d been to Fiji once before to surf but this was crazy special, we would be taken by boat with Bambi’s costumes and props plus amazing food and spirits to our own different deserted beach each day. We created a great body of work based on the Feegee Mermaid and Blue Lagoon plus got to hang with the “God” rock structure that Brooke Shields’s character feared so much in Blue Lagoon. We gave him a much-needed make over.
And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaid beaus/escorts?
Learn to walk slowly, be good with a spray bottle and build up your arms: there’s a lot of carrying to do.