Floating with the tide of military life

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Photographer Deb Schwedhelm photographed her three kids and their friends in her series "From the Sea"

As a military family, the photographer and her family typically relocate every two years

Schwedhelm relates her family's constant travel and relocation to the changing tides of the sea

CNN  — 

Darkness and light – two polarities seeking balance.

Water harvests both of these dueling states. Dive deep and you will plunge toward ever-fading light. At its surface, water exposes and reflects that light.

For photographer Deb Schwedhelm this series represents finding light over 22 years in the military system, with constant travel and relocation. Through a life that doesn’t allow for putting down roots, one must float with the tides.

She photographed her three kids and their friends in this water series, “From the Sea,” at her former home in Tampa, Florida, and while vacationing in Minnesota. The children wade, float, dive, and emerge through contrasted waters.

Photographer Deb Schwedhelm

Schwedhelm spent 10 years working as an Air Force nurse before leaving the service to pursue photography. Her husband is a naval explosive ordnance disposal officer, and their life together has always been intertwined with military life.

The photographer and her family typically relocate every two years. The unpredictable nature of this lifestyle has many ups and downs, but in trying times she makes it through.

For her, the narrative of finding light through the darkness represents this military life, but everyone can relate. “We all have challenges in life, we all go through dark times. Nobody has a perfect life. While I equate it to life in a military family, I hope that when viewers look at the series, they can relate to it whatever path they’re on,” Schwedhelm said.

She shoots the series on a Nikon S2700 with a 35 mm lens, using a special underwater housing made for the camera. She also shoots with natural light.

Schwedhelm chose to shoot in black and white to heighten the contrast between light and dark. In some of the photos the water is almost black, enhancing the unknown. This darkness came about naturally. “When I photograph, part of my camera is below water and part of it is above and because you can’t see in Tampa water, it ends up going black,” she said.

In some photos she recreated the effects of the Tampa water by laying down a black tarp in her pool.

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    The family has lived in Washington, California, Kansas, Florida, and Japan, its current residence. The family expects another move within the year. Schwedhelm’s husband lives away from the family much of the time due to his job.

    “Being in the military system as a spouse, or a family, you kind of lose control. You know, your spouse is deploying and you have to be strong, but there’s the unpredictability, the unknown. There’s times when you’re struggling,” Schwedhelm said.

    Schwedhelm said that the series follows a journey. “It starts you in one place, brings you to a place of darkness, or challenges in your life, and ultimately you end up being a survivor and being OK.”

    Schwedhelm’s husband is three years from retirement. After so many years in the military system, the family will be able to decide where to live and whether or not to put down roots. This prospect has its own concerns. The family has grown accustomed to the movement.

    “For us, home is where we currently live and we make the best of wherever we end up,” she said. “When he retires, that’s going to be the true test, because I don’t know where we’ll end up, and the thought of living somewhere long-term almost gives me anxiety after so many years of moving.”

    Schwedhelm plans to continue exploring the series at her current home in Japan.

    Deb Schwedhelm is an American photographer based in Tokyo. You can follow her blog and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.