Celebrate Earth Day with a Mystical Trip to Meryl Meisler’s “Atlantis”

Photo: Meryl Meisler, Information Around the Clock (Grand Splash Series), (detail).

While diving in South Florida in 1988, photographer Meryl Meisler peered through a reef formation and had a vision of her native New York City as the mythical island of Atlantis, which fell into the Atlantic Ocean. Using her underwater camera, she took a picture of that visionary spot.

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Back in New York, she printed the picture then handpainted the New York skyline on to the picture, sparking an idea for a larger series. In 1991, Meisler was invited by Adobe to be one of the first artists trained to use Macintosh computers and their new software, Photoshop, at a week-long intensive workshop at the Center for Creative Imaging in Maine.

Meryl Meisler,

Meryl Meisler, Atlantis (Self Portrait).

The project quickly took hold, captivating the public’s attention with technology that made it possible to manipulate photographs in new and innovative ways, culminating in Grand Splash, an exhibition of 13 digital photographing transparencies mounted on lightboxes and hung throughout the main hall of Grand Central Terminal. Meisler, the author of A Tale of Two Cities and Purgatory and Paradise (Bizarre Publishing), comes full circle in celebration of Earth Day (Saturday, April 22), giving Crave the first online exclusive of the works. She reflects on her journey here.

How did your experience scuba diving inform your experiences and ideas as an artist?

Meryl Meisler: As a child, I dreamed of having the ability to fly through currents, like Wonder Woman. Scuba diving made me feel a bit like Wonder Woman, flying though another world beneath the earth’s surface filled with color, fauna and fantastic life forms. Photographing underwater changed the way I photographed on land, and how I approached perceived missed opportunities. If I tried to chase after a sea creature, it would often swim further away and I would run out of air more quickly. I realized if you just go along at one’s own pace or even stand still, interesting things will come your way. It opened my mind and senses to the beauty of the natural world’s brilliant and continuously changing light, color, balance and form.

What was your process for creating these artworks?

Meryl Meisler: I’ll break down one image “Patricia and The Starfish” to give you an idea. The photo of my life partner, Patricia O’Brien was taken on her birthday while she was floating in a pool in Acapulco with a waterproof 35mm camera. A medium format 2 ¼ camera with positive transparency film, tripod and available light was used to photograph the constellations on the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal. The starfish were little sculptures I created by pouring latex into plaster molds made from real starfish that were found washed ashore on a beach in the Hamptons, NY.

Acrylic paint was used to add facial features, colors and personalities. The faux starfish were re-photographed. I used a projector to enlarge the Grand Central Terminal photo to its intended installation size and traced the architectural elements on a piece of translucent paper. Then, I projected individual photos of Patricia and the starfish on other layers of tracing paper to try out different arrangements against the terminal’s background. When the pre-planning was done, I made hi-res scans all the photographic elements and composited them digitally with Photoshop. The finished file was then printed at intended exhibition size.

What made you want to contrast the underwater world with the urban environment of New York?

Meryl Meisler: From this first vision of NYC as Atlantis, living and in NYC through the ‘70s and ‘80s, I was aware that our shared resources such as education, libraries, transportation, infrastructure and public spaces were in dire need of care and upkeep. The underwater ecosystem is endangered by human carelessness, physical and chemical waste and climate change. The surreal beauty of the man-made and natural worlds emphasizes the need to nurture and save our resources.

In celebration of Earth Day 2017, what message would you like to share with the world about the importance of protecting the environment?

Meryl Meisler: We are a crucial time in history. Climate change is real. What we do to protect our air, water, land and resources has an everlasting impact on the survival of human, animal plants and all life on earth. You need to do what you can as an individual- recycling, conserving energy and water at the very least. Use alternatives to chemicals that affect our natural resources and aid to what seems like an epidemic of cancer and other diseases endangering all sentient beings, fauna and flora.

You have an important tool: your voice and vote. We need our government to support the work of Environmental Protection Agencies, scientists, environmentalists, engineers, educators and individuals striving to solve the climate crisis and protect the environment. I consider it is reckless and dangerous to deny the climate crisis existence or the importance of research and regulations. We need our local and national government to provide incentives for communities and businesses large and small to find and enforce clean air and water solutions for manufacturing and residential waste. Speak out against the defunding of education, scientific research that is essential to environmental protection. We need our government to be at the forefront of working with others for new ways to protect and share resources. Cast your vote wisely, it is not garbage. We are one people, one planet; we can’t afford to waste it.

Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.