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YOWIE WOWIE!

Internationally acclaimed Chinese wildlife photographer Singda Cai, aka WOWIE in Tagalog, knows how to put the WOW into Blackwater photo making.

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Photos and text by Singda Cai. Special thanks to Fan Ping for his help connecting with Wowie.

🎶🎶 Pre-dive Clicklist: Daniel Powter – Free Loop

“It was 2016 when we first tried Blackwater photography. It less than 300 meters (nearly 100 ft) away from the shore. Our first attempt has to be categorized as a failure, I’m afraid. The wind and the current were strong, and we made a mistake by tying our underwater light to the ship and chased it for an hour. We didn’t capture any photos; it was a bad experience.”

“Blackwater photography compared to underwater photography is like shooting a shark on shore versus chasing a whale in blue water. Because Blackwater is taken only at night, my team and I worked for more than three years to film many rare species, such as Blanket Octopus and Earthquake fish, and other deep sea creatures, for example. I am the only photographer, and I use three cameras, a Nikon d850 and two Nikon z7s, which are installed in waterproof housing by Seacam.”

The team consists of a captain, a captain’s assistant, and two underwater guides. The guides are responsible for helping to locate both the marine life and the safety facilities. We all use nitrox double tanks, and dive for no more than 90 minutes per dive, two to three dives per night, and no more than 30 m/100 ft depth per dive.”

“I began underwater photography in the Philippines, Anilao, a small town and a natural paradise with rich marine species. When I started Blackwater photography, only one or two people there had any experience with it. I decided to find good partners and form my own team. Of course we made mistakes at first, but we developed methods that worked for us.”

Blackwater photography was exciting, especially to me, since it was a risk to go to sea and dive at night where only madmen went; we could not know what challenges we would meet. We have had several close calls, especially with unforeseen currents, but after a couple of years, our experience has given us the confidence we need. We make about five hundred dives a year.

“If you want to try Blackwater photography always respect nature. Never go to sea when there are strong winds and waves. Try it only after you have the experience of at least 200 dives. Find a qualified dive shop. Beginners, be sure to follow your buddy for the first time, and let the distance from the light be no more than 20 m/66 ft. Take a look at your diving computer once in a while during the shooting. Safety first.”

You can find Wowie’s work here: Photography SCai 


How were Blackwater dives conducted in the early pre-tech days of scuba? Here’s an “Off Line” report from famed photographer Chris Newbert, from aquaCORPS #2 SOLO. Tekkies, don’t try this at home!


Songda Cai aka Wowie has won numerous awards in various international photography competitions including the prestigious NHM Wildlife photographer of the year and Windland Smith Rice Nature’s Best Photography . His works have been published in countless magazines , books, including the Smithsonian Museum in Washington USA, Natural History Museum in London, Museum Koenig in Germany, Natuur Museum in Netherland and Venice, Italy. His Photographs have been reported by Chinese and International media channels.

Though many have indulged in black water photography, no one does it with more gusto than Cai. It is not uncommon for him to dive through the night to the wee hours of early morning. This dogged enthusiasm has paid off tremendously with awards and recognition by his peers. In his words, “Being able to explore the depths of the ocean is one of the most wonderful experiences in life.”

Art

Pieces of Sea

German born artist Gabrielle Berlet explores our unusual connections with the sea, one piece at a time.

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Art and text by Gabrielle Berlet

“I’m a big fan of the Ocean. I’ve spent time in the Caribbean snorkeling and became enchanted. There’s more Ocean here than Earth. I’m concerned for her as much as all of Earth and want to help bring awareness. She’s the Pacha Mama!”

“In creating my collages, I don’t do much research or planning. I find a backdrop that attracts me as I look through magazines and cut out objects that appeal to me; a ball, a face a fish, and keep cutting until I have a good pile. Then I immerse myself into the artistic process, which involves insight, spontaneity, self-doubt, many feelings, and let the art arise. What has to happen, no matter what the changes, is that I get to the point where I say, “Yes, I love it!” I have to love it. Then I glue it all down and it is finished.”

“The desert scene? Its from 2004. I lived in the high desert and loved the changing light. It had an Ocean quality with the sands and exotic ancient plants. I decided to try my hand at collage. This piece was my first. From there my collage art took on a life of its own”

“The pieces that involve water, fish and creatures of the ocean just come to me. I cut out images that I am attracted to. For example, I found a fabulous picture of a mako shark that I sat on for years. One day it fit into a backdrop, which had something to say. The piece came at the beginning of the “Me Too” movement. I didn’t purposely set the shark against the girl, that was chance.”

“I found the blue shark and cut it out, and it just fit this bucolic scene. Then I added the woman. It was so bizarre; it should never happen, right? It was like global warming. We are at a point where anything can happen.”

“The strange, pink deep sea creature apparently had only been recently discovered. It’s called an axolotl. I thought it was quite cute. The piece came together at the beginning of the pandemic. I call it “Shelter in Place.” I love the background. I cut out the robe years before. It was on a beautiful model. It felt like the piece was missing something and so I added the pet. People were sheltering in place with their pets.”

“The piece with the blue grouper coming through the window is a photo of Mariah Carey’s living room from Architectural Digest. I worked on it for a long time. I needed something in the window space and waited months for it to come together. When I saw an article on groupers, I knew a grouper belonged in the window. It took a long time but I finally glued it down.”

“The mouth and arms? I don’t know what it says. I liked the urchins because they made a kind of cuff for the arms—I am a bit of a fashion freak. But the two arms were not enough and when I came upon the mouth it seemed like a perfect fit. The electric plug came as an after thought. It was bizarre but seemed to work. I don’t know the meaning yet. Coral bleaching?”

“What the pieces say, I don’t always know. I have one piece that feels like a vision of things to come. When I create them, I have to be in the ‘right attitude,” with my humanness and irony intact. I like those forms of expression.”


Gabrielle “Gabi” Berlet was born in Germany and raised both there and in London. She came to New York as a teenager and attended Art School there but had to switch to supporting herself when her parents returned to Europe. 
She moved to western Massachusetts after the birth of her son and created a successful retail fashion business there which thrived for 25 years. In 2020 she moved to Los Angeles, CA and from there to the high desert and finally retired to the Coachella Valley where she started to explore her latent artistic talents in the form of collage work. She currently shares her life with her partner Mikole Kaar, an accomplished Jazz artist in Palm Springs California. Her email is: Gabiberlet@gmail.com 



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