Photographer Joram Mennes has an interesting creative niche. Not only is he an underwater photographer, but he specializes in photographing cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula. These underwater sinkholes form when limestone bedrock collapses and then fills with groundwater or rainwater. The Yucatan Peninsula is filled with these hidden gems—some known and others relatively unexplored. Thanks to photographers like Mennes, we're able to get a glimpse inside these mysterious environments.
Recently, Mennes went exploring with diver Mauro Bordignon. Bordignon's expertise made him the perfect model for a shoot where one needs to pose while balancing themselves underwater. But before even getting to a photoshoot, Mennes must scout the location multiple times in order to have a clear map of the cave. This not only gives him a good idea of where the model can pose but also allows for greater safety as he learns the proper exit routes.
“The more you dive into the same cave, the better you learn it and reference yourself within it,” Mennes tells My Modern Met. “This can be very challenging for a photographer as one must find areas suitable for the desired shot, scout, and explore over and over again and construct the light setup mentally before arriving in the part of the cave, as time will be short once in place.”
While some cenotes are well documented, many are located in remote areas and are relatively unexplored except for by locals. Tips from locals are how Mennes came upon this most recent location, which was located a 90-minute drive from the nearest city in the middle of a jungle. Once in the cave, Mennes and Bordignon began their silent ballet as they communicated to each other without words in order to get the pictures that they were after. The results are incredible.
Though there are 3,000 cenotes registered in the Yucatan, so many of them have never been seen by the public. Mennes is working to change that through his photography. In fact, these photographs were taken for the Xiimbalil Ja – Kaxan Tso’ono’oto’ob. This festival, which translates from Mayan to “Strolling through water, discovering the Cenotes,” aims to bring more public awareness to this precious freshwater resource.
As diving in these caves is not recommended for the general public for safety reasons, the photographs that Mennes takes are vital in making people understand that we need to protect these spaces.