Photographer Christy Lee Rogers tells us about her ’Extraordinary Portraits’ TV show

Christy Lee Rogers Extraordinary Portraits listing
Photographer Christy Lee Rogers (right) with her underwater model Cee Cee (left) (Image credit: © BBC/Chatterbox/Robert Douglas)

A visual artist who hails from Hawaii, Christy Lee Rogers’ aesthetic is often compared with that of Renaissance and Baroque painters. A signature Christy Lee Rogers photograph features a group of female models floating just underneath the surface of water, clothed in flowing dresses or wrapped in fabrics and looking like they’re floating in a dreamlike world. 

Since coming to international prominence in 2010 with her Siren collection, Christy went on to win the Open Photographer of the Year prize at the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards and during her career has created commissioned work for global brands Apple and Lavazza. 

For one of her most recent projects, though, Christy guested as one of the collaborating artists on the BBC One television series Extraordinary Portraits. 

Focusing on the art of portrait-making by exploring portraiture’s ability to communicate without words, the six-part show saw everyday heroes from the general public being immortalized in art. 

In the second episode, Christy helps Cee Cee, a model with Albinism. Cee Cee shares her struggles with how she is perceived by the outside world and her own self-belief, and embarks on a journey from self-proclaimed “ugly duckling” to elegant swan by taking part in one of Christy’s underwater shoots. 

As the show continues to be available to stream on the BBC iPlayer, we caught up with Christy to find out more about how she helped Cee Cee to love herself as she is, and tease out the natural beauty that she hid for so many years…

Christy stayed behind in London to oversee the printing of her finished image into a super-size print, which was revealed to Cee Cee and her family for the grand finale of the episode  (Image credit: © Christy Lee Rogers)

How did you get involved in the Extraordinary Portraits project?

The producers from Chatterbox Media had contacted me over a year ago, then Covid hit. We then started talking again in early summer of 2021. At that point I had no idea what we were doing, and then it all happened so organically. I believe I was one of the only non-UK artists to collaborate on the project.

What was it like working with Cee Cee and [presenter] Tinie on the programme? 

It felt natural and real, as we all were on our toes, working on a TV series that was very documentary-like. Everybody on the set was so amazing, so we could just be ourselves. 

Click here to watch ‘Extraordinary Portraits with Christy Lee Rogers’. 

You certainly succeeded with the transformation from ugly duckling to elegant swan, which was what Cee Cee was hoping for – in the pool did it take a long time to get the image you wanted? 

Yes, it was a long shoot day for all of us. We arrived in Essex at a beautiful house with an indoor pool, where we then had to figure out lighting on the spot. When you’re planning a shoot and there’s a film crew capturing you at the same time, it requires the ultimate concentration. I knew I would have to get the shot no matter what, and I think we all agreed that we were pulling something magical out of ourselves. 

Was Cee Cee a good model, given that she had to work in a setting that wouldn’t have been familiar to her?

Cee Cee was so willing to be vulnerable underwater, and let us guide her. You have to imagine that she can only see a few feet in front of her because of her Albinism, so the underwater environment was quite daunting. We had a team working with her to make her comfortable. And I think she did a fantastic job. What was incredible was that she was willing to stay the whole night until we captured the perfect shot. For that, I’m very grateful. 

(From left-right) Cee Cee, Christy Lee Rogers and the host of Extraordinary Portraits, Tinie, pictured on set (Image credit: © BBC/Chatterbox/Robert Douglas)

The Nigerian cloth that Cee Cee was draped in was striking – had you worked with such colourful “paint” (as Tinie described it) before?

No, this was the first time I’d seen such stunning fabrics, with shapes and forms that only an artist could create. Together we choose fabrics that would represent her culture and express her natural beauty. 

Were there any technical challenges to overcome on this project, above and beyond what you would experience on a typical shoot?

Oh yes! There were many time constraints for planning and shooting, as I flew to London just a few weeks after officially signing on to the programme. And then as you can imagine, we’re shooting during Covid, and I’m planning on the go. I then stayed in London for the post-production stage, so we could have the image printed and then revealed live to Cee Cee and her family. 

Was the build-up to the big reveal at the end of the show nerve-wracking?

I was working non-stop so there was no time to think about it. My plan was to make her into a star, since she could not see the night stars. Her family’s reaction was the ultimate reward. To see Cee Cee’s tears made me cry, too. 

Watch episode 2 of ‘Extraordinary Portraits’ here

(Image credit: © BBC)

Catch episode 2 of Extraordinary Portraits – and the rest of the series – on the BBC iPlayer until March 2023.

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Niall Hampton

Niall is the editor of Digital Camera Magazine, and has been shooting on interchangeable lens cameras for over 20 years, and on various point-and-shoot models for years before that. 

Working alongside professional photographers for many years as a jobbing journalist gave Niall the curiosity to also start working on the other side of the lens. These days his favored shooting subjects include wildlife, travel and street photography, and he also enjoys dabbling with studio still life. 

On the site you will see him writing photographer profiles, asking questions for Q&As and interviews, reporting on the latest and most noteworthy photography competitions, and sharing his knowledge on website building.