As a fashion model, Amber Arbucci’s life was high-flying: “My day-to-day life in modeling was very much so flying from city to city, country to country, not sleeping very much—sometimes I would go for days without sleep, just job to job, and I definitely didn’t find the time to be in nature,” she says.
But even as the subject of the photos, Arbucci was observing, paying attention, learning the trade so that she could one day pursue a lifelong goal. “I always had it in my mind that I wanted to be with animals and photograph them,” she says. “I had these dreams of being around animals in their environments—swimming with sharks and crocodiles, living among elephants.”
While most people would dip their toes, Arbucci—literally—went for it. “I never really built up my experience, I didn’t start from some easy dive and work my way up,” she recalls. “I actually started with the hardest and riskiest dive which was the tiger, bull, and great white sharks. I don’t really do anything any other way, I kind of dive right into whatever it is I want to do.”
The physical demands of photographing underwater cannot be understated. Arbucci had to learn scuba diving to build up her cardio and lung capacity to the point at which she could manage her breath and buoyancy, all while handling the technicalities of the camera and lining up her shots.
To Arbucci, it’s a form of zen, art-meets-meditation. “Underwater is a very comfortable place for me, it’s very quiet,” she says. “I’m not connected to a phone or to a laptop, I’m just at peace with myself and with these animals. I sort of feel like one of them in a sense! And it might sound crazy but I sort of talk to them with my energy. I’m very happy and I’m very, very at peace with everything.”
Arbucci is now working on her first documentary, a natural evolution from her work in still photography. Her work is shown in different galleries and exhibitions, and she hopes to show in a museum someday. “There’s a saying I live by and it’s not to live in life, but to really live life—to taste it, breathe it, smell it, do it,” she says. “When you find something you want to do but you’re not taking the next step to do it, I’d say with all my heart, try your best to do it. What you get out of that experience is absolutely beautiful.”