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Creating a Mermaid, and Teaching It, Too!

I love mermaids. I love tension. I love anything abandoned. I love flowing gowns. I love water.

Needless to say, I was very excited about this picture.

Last August was when I first thought about creating this picture. I had the general idea of wanting to photograph a mermaid in a fish tank in an abandoned place. It wasn’t until December that I found my NYC workshop location and found this abandoned pool inside. That was when I knew it was meant to be. The irony was so strong, and so profound to me. I commissioned designer Michelle Hebert to create a dress that looked vaguely like a mermaid. I told her I wanted muted rainbow colors, a tattered dress, and at least a 5 foot long train so that I could shape it into a mermaid tail. She worked her magic.

“Life Behind Glass”, Photographer Brooke Shaden, Model Brittney Panda, Assistant Lila Purdy

I only had one day at the location with my workshoppers, so I decided to shoot this picture as a demo, one of three that I created while I was teaching. This is unusual for me, as I usually like to keep my personal projects out of workshops. I like to focus on teaching and not on, perhaps selfishly, getting my own shot. But this time was different…There was no way I could rent the space again for myself, as the rate was very high, so I went for it.

It is an interesting thing, to essentially teach 15 other photographers how to half-drown a model in a fish tank in an abandoned pool…but we all had a blast with it! The model was a trooper.

We had to get the heavy fish tank up a flight of stairs, then down into the pool. It was a difficult process. Then came filling it with water, which we had to do from the 3rd floor because there wasn’t running water everywhere. Emptying it was even more painful, since the drain in the pool wasn’t working and we had to scoop water out and take it back up to the 3rd floor. Daunting. I am incredibly thankful that my friend Lila Purdy was there assisting. She had the hardest job of removing the water…I felt very bad for her!

Needless to say, everyone came together to create this image. The model Brittney was amazing…poor girl had water up her nose! But we all wanted it to work, and it did in the end.

The workshop was so much fun. I really bonded with everyone. There were even a ton of Doctor Who lovers there! It was a 2-day workshop, and after the first day, most of us extended the workshop and went to an abandoned greenhouse/factory to explore. It was amazing and incredible! I did some modeling, my sister-in-law did as well, and we all had such a fun time :)

Photographer: Brooke Shaden (
Assistant: Lila Purdy (
Designer: Michelle Hebert (
Model: Brittney Panda (

{ 6 } Comments

  1. sarah hoey | April 28, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Beautiful image! I am jealous of your fish tank, though! I’ve been dying for one that size for years! How long did it take to get all that water in it?

  2. xtian | April 28, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    This is wonderful – just love it!

  3. Renee Scott | April 28, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I am in love with this for so many reasons!

  4. Addie | April 29, 2013 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    so beautiful

  5. Your fan in CR | May 23, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    This image speaks volumes about confinement and abandonment, very touching. I want to rescue her even though I know it’s just a photo and there aren’t REALLY mermaids, or are there?

  6. Anne Peirce | July 17, 2013 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    A mermaid lover and photographer all my life. Feeling trapped by my own thoughts about this……fabulous.

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