Since I arrived in French Polynesia, I discovered a new fantastic activity: diving. The clear and beautiful waters of Polynesia are of course a diver's paradise and taking pictures of this beauty with my analogue cameras is something I really love.
As far as I can remember, I was always fascinated by all these amazing underwater documentaries and photographers. As a child, I didn’t miss any of the documentaries made by Captain Cousteau and his Calypso crew around the world (have a look at Cousteau's Youtube channel to see some of his underwater exploration videos).
And recently, my good friend stouf told me about the work of a fantastic underwater photographer called David Doubilet. I can stare at these pictures and videos for hours, I’m like hypnotized by this underwater world…
I never dived into the deep blue ocean before, and as soon as I arrived in French Polynesia, I began the course to have my divers license and I quickly dreamed of underwater photography and all the pictures that fascinated me came back in my mind. And in a way, I wanted to dive to have the opportunity to try myself to produce underwater pictures.
The 1st degree diving course wasn’t so difficult and after one week and 5 diving sessions I had my diving licence in the pocket, giving me the right to dive within a group down to max. 29 meters depth. So I could start the exploration of this new universe and have in the same time an analogue camera to shoot underwater. I already had the Fisheye submarine case and the LC-A Krab and I was happy to see that they were able to get down to 20 meters (officially) and that they did resist some more meters down to 29 meters depth. I also had purchased (thanks to the recommendations of stouf again…) a Nikonos V camera, perhaps one of the best underwater analogue cameras and found it for a good price on a well known bidding site… I was surprised when I saw that the Nikonos camera was originally conceived for the Calypso expeditions of Commandant Cousteau, and that brang me closer to my childhood dreams…
Of course, I was not the only diver who wanted to take underwater pictures and within the diving groups there were other photograpers. But they all had some huge digital camera systems and they laughed a bit at me when I came up with my Fisheye submarine, LC-A Krab, or even with my Nikonos V.
“What, you’re still shooting with film? Come on, with digital you’ll get the best pictures, camera softwares are perfect today!”
“Well, that’s the point, I don’t want the best pictures a software can produce, I want to produce the pictures in an analogue way, even if they aren’t technically perfect. I want to represent what I see, and not reproduce reality!”
I didn’t care about that, as a Lomographer I’m used to the fact that some people laugh at you and think you’re a “has-been” because you still shoot analogue. And we all are used to that, and the point isn’t – of course – about the technical perfection of a shot, but more about the representation of an universe. And for this, analogue is just perfect!
The underwater world is something amazing, it’s totally surreal and in a way abnormal for us. Humans are not intended to stay underwater and breathe air from bottles! Being underwater is not the natural human space! The very first minutes of a diving session, when you’re leaving the surface and go deep down into the blue, are always the most exciting and, in the same time, the more anxious moments. You can feel your heart beating and you’re breathing loudly with a lot of bubbles around, you need to swallow to adapt to the growing water pressure as you can feel it in your ears. After a few minutes, you breathe normally again and your heart has found a normal rythm, you feel no more pressure in your ears. Then you can admire the fascinating beauty of this underwater universe. In a way it’s very special sensation, bringing you back to some very primal feeling, before you were born, floating in the amniotic fluid of your mother….
And here’s the point about the analogue power of representation: what you feel can’t be represented as it is, the sensations aren’t clear images, and analogue gives just an image of what you feel but does not try to reproduce the exact reality. An image is not reality, it’s just a representation of it through the filter of your eye (and thus, the camera…). And if this is true for analogue photography in general, it’s specially valid for underwater photography as the reality is deformed from what your eyes can see! The water is like a magnifying glass, and when you’re underwater the distances and shapes of what you see are not what it would be if you’re above the surface. A fish looks much bigger underwater and smaller once out of the water. So what’s the underwater reality? What your eyes can see or what you feel?
The analogue spirit of lomography is all about recording the reality not as it is, but as you feel it. And that’s specially true with underwater photography. Deep underwater, you’re not always sure to know perfectly what you see, and the most important is not to see things, but to feel them. And your analogue camera is helping you by recording the feelings of this experience. The representation of a feeling does not need to match the perfect duplication of reality…
Well, diving deep underwater with analogue cameras is an amazing experience, opening your mind to a new universe, the universe of the unknown, of feelings and sensations, of dreams (or nightmares??).
In a way, diving deep into the blue leads you to dive deep into your mind and with your camera, you try to catch some representations of it….
- About Captain Cousteau (1910 – 1997, it’s the 100th anniversary of his birth this year)
- About David Doubilet
- About the Nikonos V camera, read the great camera review made by stouf or if you want to know more have a look here