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Astounding light

Looking below the surface with Lisa Beskin ’99MFA

Lisa Beskin ’MFA99 is making a name for herself as a photographer, and her unique images capture a perspective that often goes unseen. “I started taking underwater photographs during the strange pandemic summer of 2020,” says Beskin. “Mostly unemployed, I was spending a lot of time face-down in a neighborhood lake, breathing through a snorkel and looking through a dive mask.”

Underwater photograph of pink and yellow lily pads on stalks against a greenish blue background

You Were There

Close-up underwater photograph of pink and yellow lily pads on stalks against a dark gray background

Lake Study 3

Beskin received her MFA in poetry from UMass, going on to publish a collection, My Work Among the Faithful (Lynx House Press, 2004), and a chapbook, Prussian Blue (Factory Hollow Press, 2011). While her emphasis these days is on photography, she says, “I like to think that some of the artistic values I learned in graduate school translate to my photographs—a willingness to show the less obvious, to provide surprises, to interrogate the work and make it as fresh and strong as I can.”

Underwater photograph of a fish and pale green lily pads on stalks against a green background, doubled in reflection in the surface of the water]

A Bass Between Plants

Underwater photograph of pink and gold lily pads against a dark gray background with light green spots

Cosmos 2

Her poet’s voice still shines through in how she describes her work. “On a whim I bought a waterproof case for my smartphone and began recording what I was seeing: outrageous colors and delicate tableaux, otherworldly scapes, ranges of light and clarity, murk and gloom,” she says.

Close-up underwater photograph of a crumpled light green lily pad with pink spots against a black background, doubled in reflection in the surface of the water


Underwater photograph of a single pink and gold lily pad floating near the surface against a pale blue background

Lake Study 2

In the few short years Beskin has been taking these photographs, her work has been displayed in several galleries, and one of her pieces was named a winner in Mass Audubon’s Your Great Outdoors 2021 photo contest. She follows the seasons, and in winter, she photographs the icy surfaces of the ponds she swims in during the warmer months. Her work aims to see the world as it is, and she uses only natural, ambient light. “Underwater light is astounding,” she says. “One day the sun may hit the plants just right, and another the water might be too turbid, the particulate matter occluding the light. I must live with whatever’s happening right that second, which is not bad practice during these difficult times.”

Underwater photograph of the underside of a white waterlily and three green lily pads against a black background

Waterlily Blossom

See more of Beskin’s underwater and ice photography on her website.