On an isolated rocky islet in the Carribean Ocean, the real life "lost boys" of St. Vincent & the Grenadines lived a life unexamined—until, that is, local artist Nadia Huggins and her Olympus Tough TQ-3 swam up alongside them. “I grew up on this beach and spent a lot of my own adolescence jumping off of these rocks, swimming, fishing and diving myself and I started photographing the boys partly trying to recapture and revisit some of my own personal experiences from that age,” she tells me in an interview. In 2013 and 2014, the self-taught photographer spent a year documenting the accidental elegance of a handful of these amphibious teenage boys from her birthplace, the results of which would become her Circa no future photo series.
Above the salty spray, Huggins’ subjects appear on the verge of physical manhood, with tapering jaws and broadening backs. Below the surface, however, their features and forms soften. Distilled in the azure waters, the boys seem both playful and powerless, immersed in Mother Nature's mercy. “The boys climb a large rock, proving their manhood through endurance, fearlessly jump, and become submerged in a moment of innocent unawareness,” she says. “They emerge having proven themselves.” And indeed, Huggins’ selection for the series capture the boys at their most childlike: eyes squeezed shut, palms splayed, knees bents and torso hunched—all unapologetic paradoxes, masculinity budding in the maternal domain of the sea.
The gendering yin and yang of Circa no future played a role in the evolution of Huggins' series: at the age of 14, the artist lost her hair to alopecia and has since sported a bare scalp—she strongly objects to wearing a wig. As a result, “I have always had a very particular experience being a woman and a photographer,” she explains. “Most people are very conservative on these islands, so I've always had to navigate my way through these rigorous ideals of what is expected of a woman and of a man. I have always felt that this has allowed me access into particular situations just based on the perception of who I am and it's made for some interesting interactions.”
“When I started approaching these boys, I would swim up to them in the water they would assume I was a boy also because they could only see my head approaching them,” she continues. “They wouldn't think anything of me and behave in a way that was natural to them. The moment they realize I am a woman they become self-conscious and start performing for me and so the relationship changes.” This shift is blatant in the shots above and under the waterline, as seen below.
Noticing these contrasts, Huggins reformulated her objective for the project: “What I became really interested in was their natural way of being before the shift in our relationship happened," she explains. "Photographing them at the moment that they break through the water after the jump, there is no performance in that moment because there is a freedom and transformation that happens through that moment. I think perhaps that is the closest I can get to reestablishing that relationship and breaking down the boundaries of gender and how we interact with each other. In that type of moment of being in the water, we are all the same and just trying to resurface for air."