WetINK Quarterly (Autumn) – Featuring: Helen Walne

Helen Walne is an award-winning underwater photographer, writer and editor who spends every free moment submerged in Cape Town’s kelp forest. She is self-taught and aims to showcase the vibrant life below the ocean so we might strive to be better guardians of this unique ecosystem. She is also fond of dreaming up narratives for the undersea creatures she encounters, which often inexplicably turn nudibranchs into failed poets and octopus into whisky-drinking tango dancers. 

We recently caught up with Helen for a quick Q&A :


Did anyone who inspire you to take up underwater photography, or was there a moment that made you think, ‘yeah, this is something I would like to do’?

To be honest, I still don’t know how I ended up pursuing underwater photography. One day I was swimming in the sea; a few weeks later I was bum-up in the kelp wielding a terrible borrowed action camera (it didn’t even have a screen, so I had no idea what I was taking). Then came a better compact camera, a daily obsession –and now a set-up as big as a pasta-making machine. I can’t imagine not doing it.


What is your favourite artistic medium and why?

I’d love to be able to work with oils, and am a huge fan of new abstract landscape artists. But, for me, light in water is my artistic medium. I can’t get enough of the alchemy that happens when kelp meets sun and water.


Along with underwater photography, is there anything else that you like to photograph?

I struggle to photograph anything on land. My eye just doesn’t work that way. I do love geometry and shadows, and try my hand at capturing them. But I’m quite rubbish out of water.


To date, what is your favourite project/piece that you have worked on?

Travelling to Die Oog near Groot Marico for the first time was like a dream. It’s a natural spring filled with water lilies. The water is so clear it looks like glass. I pretty much spent three full days submerged, trying to capture the magic of the subsurface reflections; the way the lilies created these almost mythical knots and necklaces.


Do you have any projects/exhibitions in the pipeline?

I want to put together a book of my underwater photography and writing. If there is a nobleman out there with patron vibes, feel free to fling your purse of silver this way!


If you could swap a piece of work with anyone, who would that be?

I would love a work by emerging Australian artist Meg Walters. She paints beautiful abstract landscapes that really move me.

Helen’s work will be on display at Wetink Cape Town from 3rd April – 30 June 2023

Check out Helen’s Instagram @helen_walne

Prints available 📍 www.helenwalne.com

WetINK Quarterly (Autumn) - Helen Walne
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WetINK Quarterly (Autumn) - Helen Walne
Interview with Helen Walne, Cape Town photographer.
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