To shoot her latest photo series, Amber Arbucci stripped naked and leapt into an algae-rich lake filled with millions of golden jellyfish. The part-time Miami resident swam alone for seven hours with a waterproof camera and zero protection. The resulting self-portraits show Arbucci floating in the emerald-colored deep, cupping her hands around the animals.
Not visible in these photographs: the many jellyfish stings on her skin, swollen-shut eyes and a sensation Arbucci describes as "full-body numbness."
"I was supposed to be in the water for 15 minutes, but I don't ever listen to rules," Arbucci says with a laugh, recalling her skinny dip off the Pacific island of Palau. "I would see 20 jellyfish grouped at the bottom — it doesn't even look real — and I just lost myself in the beauty. I didn't realize I was being stung until the end of the photo shoot, and then I tell my friend, I'm like, 'Bro, I can't move right now,' and I said, 'OK. OK. Just breathe.'"
A wildlife photographer, conservationist, former Victoria's Secret model and self-described "part-time adrenaline junkie," Arbucci will unveil her photo display "Girl at Jellyfish Lake" at the returning ecology festival and conference Sustainatopia. The show (reception is 6 p.m. Friday at Avant Gallery, 309 23rd St., Miami Beach) is bound to a larger lineup of Sustainatopia events, about 30 in total, that promote social, financial and environmental sustainability.
Arbucci was also feted with a Model of Sustainability Award for her conservation work through her Identify Foundation during Wednesday's Sustainatopia Honors at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens. John Rosser, a Miami-based freelance sustainability consultant who founded Sustainatopia three months after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, says adding a high-profile supermodel to the lineup "checked many boxes" for the conference's visibility.
"She's from Florida. She's into fashion. And she's gotten real traction on her environmental photography," Ross says. "We want to make this event to be a catalyst in South Florida."
Arbucci is also one of 200 speakers at Sustainatopia's annual Impact Conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Other highlights include an ethical fashion show and summit at the Botanical Gardens; film screenings and art displays; beach and waterway cleanups; and free standup paddleboarding and kite-surfing lessons.
Amber Arbucci will appear at 6 p.m. Friday at Avant Gallery (309 23rd St., Miami Beach), during an unveiling of her photo exhibit, "The Girl at Jellyfish Lake." Free. Sustainatopia runs through April 22 in various locations in Miami and Miami Beach. Go to Sustainatopia.com for a full schedule.