WEST PALM BEACH, Florida -- There were two close calls for two of West Palm Beach underwater-nude photographer Todd Essick's models.
Essick was working on a new coffee-table picture book of disrobed women interacting with sea life in the Bahamas last week when his muses bumped into overly friendly reef sharks.
"We push the envelope," Essick said. "And there are some risks involved."
One model, 26-year-old San Francisco mermaid Renata Foucre, has 22 puncture wounds on her left foot and a prescription for antibiotics to prove it.
And a colleague, Boca siren Missy Kehoe, found a 6-foot shark entangled in the fishnet costume she wore for her pictorial. That beast found its way out without hurting her.
"I'm not sure I'll ever do that again," Foucre said. "The shark definitely clamped down. There are bruises around each puncture wound, lined up from my toes to the ankle.
"I'm lucky he didn't thrash after he got me."
Foucre's mistake, said Nassau shark specialist David Eads, was to wear a flowing nightgown covered in sequins that sparkled like silvery small fry on a clear morning.
"The shark thought she was dinner but didn't like what it had bitten into," said Eads. "This was just a nibble."
For the past six years, Essick has been publishing artistic photos of women swimming with dolphins, moray eels, barracudas, stingrays and others. Until last week, he said, the worst injury had been a hickey-like stingray bite.
For the models, looking good is the tiniest of problems. They dive sometimes 50 feet deep without scuba gear. They breathe from a nearby helper's tank. And they have to open their eyes in salt water and make it look natural.
Off Nassau, Foucre was supposed to look like a ghostly but festive figure on the bow of a sunken freighter.
"As soon as she got in, the sharks were coming much closer than on the previous days," Essick said.
Said Foucre: "I felt something clamp down on my foot, so I calmly headed for the surface. I knew it was a shark because I saw their shadows and one bumped my foot before the other one bit me."
One might ask, Is this too much danger in the name of art?
"Anyone could get killed crossing the street, too," Essick said. "All I'm thinking about is going back to get better pictures."
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