The world beneath the ocean surface off the central coast of California is cold, silent and swarming with otherworldly life. The underwater world was my first source of inspiration and the birthplace of my first photographs. Thirty years later I have come full circle, back to the Big Blue, finding inspiration for images there. The water nurtures me, washes away my pain, and rewards me with photographs I love.
The photographs in this new series are a collaboration between me and my photographic assistant Camille Derendinger. Like myself, Camille is a scuba and free diver as well as a photographer. While we worked doing platinum print orders, we came up with the intriguing idea of making underwater platinum photographs. And for years I have been interested in working with grain evident enough to create an impressionistic look. This seemed appropriate to underwater photography, in which light and perspective take on altered dimension. In an environment where vision is limited by variable water clarity and lack of peripheral vision due to the face mask, having two cameras and two sets of eyes became a great advantage. Nearly all of these photographs were made while free diving on a single breath of air. As the work progressed we frequently discovered how many images each of us missed while being only ten feet apart.
"Kanchi", which translates from Japanese as "quiet place" seemed a fitting title for this body of work. When diving on a breath-hold, unencumbered by scuba gear, the body moves freely in a weightless, silent, meditative state. We use 35 mm Nikonos cameras with very high speed film, chosen for its enhanced grain and speed for low natural light. The film is given extended development to further enhance grain and contrast. We then make digital negatives for the platinum printing process. I printed the first images with the customary clean rectangular form I normally use, but then I started coating the paper in a free-form pattern, using a brush. As we explored and discarded different techniques, it took about six months for the first photographs with the right combination of content and technique to be realized. Then it was a matter of spending as much time as possible in the water.
In many respects this work could be called unconventional for underwater photography, and we are sometimes hard pressed to identify the creatures suspended in each frame of film. What we find intriguing are the shapes, the forms of life, and the quality of light that exist only underwater. We are not naturalists, we are not fishermen. We have a deep respect for the Oceans, and for the life that inhabits them. We bring home only what the camera sees.