“It is just like #POW#!"
The British photographer Nicola Miskin lives in Jersey on the Channel Islands, between France and continental England. When her mother fell ill with dementia, she found support in swimming. She also discovered something else, which saved her. Just below the surface of the water…
Anette: While I can't swim, the lockdown has no influence on your daily swimming routine. Please tell me about your swim today. That might sooth my pain a little...
Nicola: I went this morning early and it was a little bit windy, but not as cold as yesterday. The sea was a bit rough, but it was nice. I met my swim buddy Annabel and my third son Henry came too. I am very lucky here in Jersey in the Channel Islands. There's lots of little bays all the way around. So whichever way the wind is blowing, you can find a bay, which is sheltered. Within twenty, thirty minutes we can get to any beach. So we're very lucky. And we were allowed to swim in lockdown so I could get to my beach whenever I want to and just go into the ocean.
Did you grow up in Jersey?
Yes, I was born here. Grew up here, went to school, left at seventeen, went to college, went to university, stayed in England, met my husband, got married, had three children and then came back when I was about thirty five with three children and then we had one more. It's a lovely place to bring up children. They've had the same upbringing as me being able to go to the beach, being free.
What’s the temperature in November?
Not that cold, about 13 degrees. But it has been very windy.
Was it easy for you to adjust to the sea?
The first winter was the hardest and really a mental challenge. The second winter was easier and I had adjusted to the cold. My swim buddy Annabel and me I we just swam and never thought to put on a wet suit. I think getting in in the winter is just as difficult as getting in in the summer. The air is hot. You still have that shock. In the winter you have to get in quickly because the air is so cold. You can't mess around, you just have to get in.
So you are a real cold water swimmer …
Not really. This is only my third winter.
I started swimming, when my mum had very bad dementia. It was very difficult. It was tearing the family apart. My sister and I were fighting. My sister was fighting my dad. And I knew if I was in the sea, I could escape from it all just for a moment and then go back and look after my mum. The girl I swam with, her mum had the same type of dementia as my mum. This also helped me through that time. My mum passed away a bit more than a year ago. And I think the swimming really helped me deal with everything that was going on around.
Swimming was kind of a rescue, maybe a healing force for you?
Definitely. When you get in the water, everything else goes in your life. Just to float and turn and spin around in the sea, it's just heaven. You just about being in the water and immerse in it. Swimming, that's all you think about. And the rest of the world is gone. It's fantastic.
Fantastic like your photos, which for me are water art. How did you find out?
My husband and I did photography at the university and that's where we met. I didn't really do much photography after I had various jobs, had children and needed to earn money to bring them up. Art didn't come back into my life. My husband had a second hand underwater camera. And when I started swimming, he said: "Well, I'll never use this because I'm not going into cold water. You can have it." So I took this battered second hand camera and took pictures of us, splashing around. And then one day I just put the camera underneath and I went #WOW#! Under the water the light hits the surface. The color is so intense, it is just like #POW#! This is when I started taking pictures under the surface.
The water surface really got you …
Yeah. But I had to learn how to do it. It's not easy because when you in the sea you're moving, you're subject is moving. And sometimes the seaweed just disappears from the frame. It's very difficult to get that shot. While I am trying to play with the surface, I am often thrown around by the waves.
So, taking water-surface-photos is quite a job ...
Yes. It is. But, I love it. I can't wait. I want to swim. I want to take the pictures. I want to see what I've got when I get home and can see the beautiful things. This is what I love because everyone looks at the sea, but they don't see what I see. You just see the surface. And I see below the surface. The wonderful thing is: I just have such good feedback. I had an exhibition. People are buying my photos now and putting them on their walls. It's really nice knowing what I see underwater, people like.
Maybe it’s because you are exploring this tender line, which separates the ocean from the earth?
Yes. And if I can get an underwater object to reflect back up onto that flat surface of the water, it's just amazing. That's a moment of distortion and puzzle. What is that? Why is it like that? Why is it symmetrical?
With starting swimming you have found your passion for photography?
Not really. Yes, it has come back to me after all these years. When I went to college I studied photography, but eventually became a bookkeeper. Still, everyone said to me "when are you going to be creative again?" I said, "No, I don't think so. I just can't find it. I can't find what I want to do. And then I found it. It was in the sea.
How does this “being creative again” influence your life today?
It makes me very happy. I am somehow back to the creative person I was when I was at art college, when I was 18, 19. I looked at my work last weekend and I thought, “wow, you used to be quite good”. It's like my creativity has come back. The sea is really amazing, I mean our beaches sometimes have stones right up and then the sea drags them all out and then they are gone. And you think, how can the sea move all this land and stones and sand?
Isn’t that wonderful that you can observe those changes?
Yes. You know, I pinch myself all the time because we are so lucky to live here. When I get to one of the bays, I say, "this is so beautiful." My swim buddy Annabel an me and I used to say the same thing every time we swim. "We are so lucky. This is so beautiful. This was the best swim ever!" And every time it's always different. We go to the same bay and it would be a different swim. It would be a different weather, a different tide. It's always different. You can never get bored because it's always changing. You know, sometimes the bay is full of seaweed. Sometimes it's rough. Sometimes it's calm. Sometimes it's glassy. It's beautiful.
Why do you swim?
Swimming is incredible and so easy. And it's free. Well, if you go to a pool, you might pay it. You just buy a swimsuit. I've got two and some gloves, if it’s getting too cold. That's it! Swimming it so good for your health, for your happiness. Your head is in such a good place when you swim. I can be feeling really really quite dark and not feeling great. Then I go swimming and it just goes. I even cannot remember the feeling before I went swimming. I'm 58 now and I can't believe I didn't find it before this. What have I been doing all my life, why was I not in the sea?
Nicola Miskin lives in Jersey. The happy child she is, she swims and photographs every day. The happy child that I am sees her wonderful sensual photos on Instagram, daily tender notes from the ocean.
You can find - and buy - her work of art on her website or at one of her exhibitions, Nicola is planning for 2021.