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Floating in the open sea, surrounded by the unpredictable ocean, Chris Leidy is at home. The serenity of the rippling water calms him. As a mere blip on the sea's expansive radar, it's there where he connects with nature, God and himself. It's there where he has made a name for himself as an illustrious underwater photographer.
“When I swim in the ocean, I'm 99.9 percent alone, and I feel comforted by God that whatever happens, it happens for a reason,” Leidy says. “I'm not bound by fear or hesitation.”
It's this abandonment that has molded Leidy, 34, into the successful photographer he is today. For more than eight years, Leidy has been traveling the world fearlessly shooting in both shallow water, where he captures the surface light refracting toward the sea floor; and in the deep sea, where he captures marlin, whales and sharks swimming too close for most people's comfort. His work has been featured in renowned publications including Condé Nast Traveler, Forbes and House Beautiful.
“I am able to witness, capture and share magnificent things that will never be repeated again,” he says.
As a child growing up on the north end of the island of Palm Beach, Leidy spent his days fishing, surfing and free diving. He lived in a house on the dunes where it was quiet and lush—the perfect backdrop for a child's imagination to run as free as the wind.
It's obvious Leidy cultivated his sense of adventure long before he picked up a camera. But his interests toward the visual arts happened only after his dreams of becoming a baseball player were crushed. A promising pitcher, Leidy thought he had a career in sports. But after a bicep tear, it was clear fate had other plans. It was then that the camera became a salvation of sorts. Leidy eventually went to Full Sail University in Orlando, where he studied film, motion, camera and light. And upon graduating, he worked in the film industry in both Los Angeles and New York City.
But the ocean always beckoned him to come home. He knew that if he could combine his passions for both the water and the camera, he would be fulfilled.
So in 2006, after living in New York for five years, he moved back to Palm Beach and began building a portfolio of underwater footage. He even lived aboard his family's boat, the Sea Hunter, for five months filming in the southern chain of the Bahamas. Eventually, he was hired by Fox Sports Net to shoot for “Reel Adventures.”
“I was witnessing beautiful things, but I had nothing to show for it … like seeing a marlin regurgitate its stomach and swallow it up again,” he says.
After nearly two years, he left the show and made the change from film to stills.
In 2008 he had his first showing, and sold 16 out of 21 of his photos. That immediate success set the tone, and he spent the following years honing his craft and traveling to remote destinations like Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Micronesia. And while she was alive, he would even bounce creative ideas off of his grandmother, a woman he called “granny,” while the rest of the world knew her as Lilly Pulitzer.
Today Leidy splits his time between Palm Beach, where he recently featured his new series, Stop Motion, at his gallery on Poinciana Way; and New York, where he'll be opening a studio on West 22nd Street this month.
But his next big undertaking is the arctic. He'll be engulfed in the antithesis of what he's been used to, but as long as he's still able to connect with nature's bounty, he'll be at home.