"It's pretty simple - I love the water," says Rhea Pappas, this month's cover artist. "I was always considered a water baby. I'd be in the tub for hours."

She's a swimmer, sailor, scuba diver and - where she makes the biggest waves - an underwater photographer.

Beyond her own love of being in the water, Pappas also encourages other women to join her in the swimming pool. She takes pictures with her Aquatica AD700 camera of women underwater with fabrics flowing, often surrounded by bubbles. In one series of photos, Lingua Luna, a local music trio, included their musical instruments under the water.

"I think underwater lends itself to a very womanly presence. The light is gentle; there's a lot of serenity underwater. It's a very mystical, mythical, just a comforting place," Pappas says.

That is, once you get past the whole fear of drowning. Pappas works with her models to ease any anxiety. "Being underwater can be scary for some people," she says. "I'm not one of those people."

Beneath the surface

A collection of photographs by Pappas will be on display from October to January at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona. The project grew out of her college senior thesis of individual women floating on the water with flowers and fabrics. She graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) with a degree in fine arts photography.

Within a year of graduating from MCAD she had equipped herself with an underwater camera and started taking photographs below the surface, capturing the reflections from above the water.

Pappas knew from her senior year at Perpich Arts High School that she would be a photographer. "I wasn't built for the stage - my heart wasn't there," she says. She had started out in the singing program at Perpich, but learned quickly that she had stage fright. She found she preferred to be out of the spotlight and behind the camera.

Pappas was introduced to photography and darkroom processes in her first year of high school. "I found it very difficult, but I loved the challenge. Put me in an honors class, and I'd excel."

For Pappas, this art form was mathematical and technical, with variable scientific components, like the sun being too bright for exposure. "I'm nerdy," she says. Taking photos combines the logicaland the artistic sides of her brain. "My favorite things. It's very rewarding."

While in high school she took PSEO (Postsecondary Enrollment Options) classes in photography at MCAD and also at Minneapolis Technical and Community College. Her senior photographic portfolio led to her winning a substantial arts scholarship, which she used at MCAD.

Today, along with her passion for fine art photography, Pappas works with a digital camera and shoots weddings, senior portraits and events for businesses, such as Aveda and Caribou Coffee.

"I love capturing emotions and moments," she says. "I'm going along on someone else's journey and documenting it. It's nice to be a part of somebody's story, centered on someone else."

FFI: www.rheapappas.com

You can watch Rhea Pappas at work with her underwater camera in a Minnesota Original episode, produced by Twin Cities Public Television: www.mnoriginal.org/episode/mn-original-show-103/rhea-pappas/

What: Surfacing: Rhea Pappas
When: Oct. 23, 2015-Jan. 10, 2016; Tues.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Minnesota Marine Art Museum, 800 Riverview Dr., Winona, MN 55987
Cost: Adults $7; students $3; children age 4 and under, free
FFI: 507-474-6626 or www.mmam.org