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HomeContentsThemes > Underwater

Curatorial and planning notes 
I'd like to include a history of underwater photography and if you are interested and would like to collaborate let me know.

10005.01   Introduction to underwater photography
10005.02   Divers
10005.03   Louis Boutan: Underwater photography
10005.04   Donald Lawrence: Underwater pinhole cameras
10005.05   James Fee: The Peleliu Project
This theme includes example sections and will be revised and added to as we proceed. Suggestions for additions, improvements and the correction of factual errors are always appreciated.
10005.01   Underwater >  Introduction to underwater photography 
In Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1887) Jules Verne included a passage about underwater photography less than a decade before Louis Boutan who make it a practical reality. In the novel Ned Land speaks with Captain Nemo:
"Look, Captain, at these magnificent rocks, these uninhabited grottos, these lowest receptacles of the globe, where life is no longer possible! What unknown sights are here! Why should we be unable to preserve a remembrance of them?"
"Would you like to carry away more than the remembrance?" said Captain Nemo.
"What do you mean by those words?"
"I mean to say that nothing is easier than to take a photographic view of this submarine region."
I had not time to express my surprise at this new proposition, when, at Captain Nemo's call, an objective was brought into the saloon. Through the widely-opened panel, the liquid mass was bright with electricity, which was distributed with such uniformity, that not a shadow, not a gradation, was to be seen in our manufactured light. The Nautilus remained motionless, the force of its screw subdued by the inclination of its planes: the instrument was propped on the bottom of the oceanic site, and in a few seconds we had obtained a perfect negative. [1]
10005.02   Underwater >  Divers 
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10005.03   Underwater >  Louis Boutan: Underwater photography 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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10005.04   Underwater >  Donald Lawrence: Underwater pinhole cameras 
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Canadian photographer Donald Lawrence has worked since 1997 on a project that combines underwater photography, pinhole cameras and a study of the inter-tidal and sub-tidal zones of the ocean.[2] 
10005.05   Underwater >  James Fee: The Peleliu Project 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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The father of photographer James Fee was with the US Marines when they landed on Peleliu an the event fundamentally altered who he was. When his son revisited the seemingly idyllic location of blue seas with crystal clarity and bleached sands he was exploring visually the life of his father and attempting to understand or at least get a connection with what had happened. Using underwater photography he dove on the wrecks in 2001 he found military detritus - the physical memories of the Second World War in the Pacific.
A press release for an exhibition of this series gives a background:
The battle of Peleliu began on September 15, 1944. It was supposed to be over in three days. It lasted for 73. Under a scorching sun, in temperatures that reached 115 degrees, American and Japanese forces struggled for control of this six mile by two mile coral island in the South Pacific. When it was over, 8,769 Americans had been killed or wounded, and all but a handful of the 10,500 Japanese who had dug themselves into caves to defend the island were dead. There are many who believe the battle served no purpose.
Photographer James Fee’s father, Russell James Fee, a 21 year old Marine corpsman from Iowa, spent the first day of battle going back and forth from shore to ship under heavy fire tending to the eleven hundred men wounded in the initial hours of combat. In the days and weeks to follow, the demands on the young corpsman would grow exponentially as thousands upon thousands more men were wounded. When the battle ended, Fee would be assigned to bury the dead both Japanese and American.
Two months before the invasion, writing in pencil in a thin, black, cloth covered notebook eight by four and a half inches in size, Russell Fee began to record his experiences. "This is not a day to day diary," he writes in the opening sentence, "but rather just the important days of my overseas life". The entries which follow in this 23 page "book of facts" begin the day after he ships out for the South Pacific, and end sixteen months later as he is returning home. Russell Fee’s prose is uncrafted. He was not writing for an audience. There is no attempt to create a literary effect or dramatize events in any way. In simple, declarative sentences, he relates what happened and records his emotions. His words are like hammer strokes engraving each moment in the mind of the reader.
Russell Fee returned from Peleliu with a fierce, uncompromising vision of America which would have a profound impact on the life and work of his son. Fifty-three years later, armed with his fathers’ snapshots and diary which he had just uncovered, James Fee went to Peleliu to see with his own eyes the place where his father’s vision had taken shape. The result of his five year quest is The Peleliu Project. Do not be deceived by the simplicity of that title. Beneath the calm, luxuriant surface of James Fee’s color images of the island today lies the terrible history of this battle, and the long, dark shadow which it would cast on the family of Pharmacist’s Mate 3rd Class, Russell Fee.[3]
The series concerns not only family history but the nature of memory and how landscape photography and historical issues are intertwined. In this case there are fading physical traces of the remnants of war so there is a tangible connection but what happens when the traces have gone? Does a landscape still carry traces of a non-visual kind?[4] 

  1. Λ Jules Vernes, 1887, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, (Butler brothers), p. 255 
  2. Λ Donald Lawrence: The Underwater Pinhole Photography Project, since 1997
    (Accessed: 4 April 2014) 
  3. Λ James Fee, 2003, The Peleliu Project, (Seraphin Gallery) 
  4. Λ © William Levinson - courtesy of the Seraphin Gallery 
  5. Λ They question of place and memory is addressed in Eva Leitolf's series "German Images - Looking for Evidence 2006-2008" and in David Farrell's book, 2002, Innocent Landscapes: Sites of the Disappeared in Ireland, (Dewi Lewis Publishing)


HomeContents > Further research

General reading 
Boutan, Louis, 1900, La photographie sous-marine et les progés de la photographie, (Schleicher frères) [Δ
Monroe, Gary, 2008, Silver Springs: The Underwater Photography of Bruce Mozert, (University Press of Florida) isbn-10: 0813032202 isbn-13: 978-0813032207 [Δ
Readings on, or by, individual photographers 
Leni Riefenstahl 
Riefenstahl, Leni, 1978, Coral Gardens, (Harpercollins) isbn-10: 0060135913 isbn-13: 978-0060135911 [Δ
If you feel this list is missing a significant book or article please let me know - Alan - 

HomeContentsPhotographers > Photographers worth investigating

Louis Boutan  (1859-1934) • David Doubilet  (1946-) • James Fee  (1949-2006) • Ryuijie  (1950-) • Flip Schulke  (1930-2008)
HomeThemes > Underwater 
A wider gaze

HomeContentsOnline exhibitions > Underwater

Please submit suggestions for Online Exhibitions that will enhance this theme.
Alan -

ThumbnailJames Fee: The Peleliu Project 
Title | Lightbox | Checklist
Released (January 9, 2008)

HomeVisual indexes > Underwater

Please submit suggestions for Visual Indexes to enhance this theme.
Alan -

ThumbnailBrett Weston: Underwater nudes 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailDonald Lawrence: Underwater Pinhole Camera B/W Model III, 2002 
ThumbnailDonald Lawrence: Underwater Pinhole Camera II, 1997 
ThumbnailDonald Lawrence: Underwater Polaroid Pinhole Camera, 1999 
ThumbnailDonald Lawrence: Underwater pinhole cameras 
ThumbnailJames Fee: The Peleliu Project 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailLouis Boutan: Underwater photography 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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