Erena Shimoda always had a passion for the sea. Her experience as a scuba diver, going back 10 years, gave her the necessary skills to pursue underwater portrait photography and capture beautiful images transformed by the ocean.
After surviving a life-changing car accident in which she lost her father and nearly lost her vision as well as her left arm, Shimoda knew she wanted to work with people to ensure they could reemerge from their own traumatic experiences, as well.
"I always wanted to help people with my creative skills," says Shimoda. "I just didn't know how or who."
She started volunteering for the American Cancer Society's "Look Good...Feel Better" campaign, where cancer fighters learn how to put wigs on to improve the way the feel. This experience made Shimoda see that she could easily combine her two passions — underwater photography and helping others — and create a beyond-unique result.
Shimoda's Underwater Healer project works with those who have struggled with horrific experiences and helps to rebuild their self-image and self-esteem through underwater portraits.
She partnered with IHadCancer.com, an online community where survivors, fighters, and supporters connect, launching a campaign that provided free underwater photography and healing sessions for 10 cancer survivors of all genders, ages, and cancer types on the West Coast. The aim was to help these survivors go to a place where their emotional and physical scars simply do not exist.
"My clients gain self-esteem by challenging new experience with their new bodies," says Shimoda. "They find the underwater photo session as therapy because the warm water and the freedom of the movement relaxes them. My goal is to see them smile when they see the photographs."
And, that goal certainly doesn't seem too hard to meet, considering the results are truly phenomenal.
Click through to see all of the inspiring portraits, and read more about each of the survivors here.