Drowning Self. Staging the Charm of the Strange, the Power of the Different, the Beauty of Death

In (amateur) model photography, it is very popular to stage women close to or in water. This motif refers to aquatic creatures that can be distinguished into various categories: the gentle Meerjungfrau and the dangerous Nixe (both translate mermaid), as well as the iconic “Ophelia” who is also associated with an aesthetic way of dying. This article, based on long-term participant observation and qualitative interviews, is not only about the reasons why people are fascinated by such beings, but why they want to embody them. All these figures are captivating through their beauty, but also include ambiguity. The research shows that being a mermaid or Ophelia can enable the person to articulate inner conflicts by visualizing them and acting them out. Further, it helps to overcome one’s own body by taking the often challenging effort to impersonate these characters, thus to become something different. The physical effort to pose in the water adds to this effect that was described by (hobby) models as “healing”.