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.”
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.”
Dive instructor cum fashion designer Erik Speer weaves macramé fiber into phantasmagorical coral-like formations.
Text, photography and art courtesy of Erik Speer.
“I started off making basic macrame pieces about 5 years ago. I never started off with the intention of making pieces that resemble the underwater world. It just came about naturally. My first couple pieces were conglomerations of different materials and textures that I found interesting and people’s responses were always that it reminded them of coral reefs. I took that feedback and figured that I had found a way to really transfer my love of the underwater world to a medium that allowed me to share my scuba diving experiences with other people.”
“When I was in college I decided to drop out and move to Honduras to become a scuba instructor. For the next 2 years I traveled the globe teaching diving and seeing coral reefs that were both thriving and dying. I had to stop diving so much because I burst both my eardrums and risked losing my hearing for good if I kept diving daily. Those days of scuba diving are some of my most cherished memories and I love to think back on them and try to recreate the reefs and feelings I got from diving. My work is less about recreating the corals exactly as they are, but more about recreating the intrigue and wonder that diving on the reefs brought me. I want to make people curious about the underwater world and actively want to learn more and explore it on their own.”
“Yarns and fabrics were literally given to me when I was working in the fashion industry in NYC. There is such an excess of material in that industry that they are often thrown out or just left on shelves to collect dust. It was the material that I had access to so I decided to see what I could possibly do with it. It’s a great material that allows me to create unlimited amounts of textures and shapes.”
“One square foot of a piece might contain 100 little knit “corals” where each piece took me 30 minutes to make. I usually give myself about 2 months to work on a piece. I really pride myself on making every little thing on a piece. I have been told I should outsource making sections of a piece that way I can produce more work within a year. However I don’t think the work would be the same. Anytime I feel rushed or questioned why I don’t take shortcuts to finish a piece quicker I just think about how long and coral reef takes to grow and thrive.”
“I definitely do not get to dive as much I would like. Usually just when I am on holiday. It is always a joy to get back underwater but it never lives up to when I was diving the same reef sometimes twice a day for months on end. Diving once at a site is amazing, but seeing a site day after day opens your eyes to the underwater world and how a reef is really a community that exists together.”
“I am really inspired by the feeling and experience that SCUBA gave me and I hope my work brings a little bit of that to the viewer.”
Born and raised in New Mexico, Erik Speer, moved to South Carolina at 15 and graduated from College of Charleston with a degree in marine biology. Went on a two year world tour teaching scuba diving. Suffered a diving accident and returned to the States and enrolled at Parsons. Graduated in December 2015 with an associate science degree in fashion design and began working in the industry. Was unfulfilled by the hands off design aspect of most fashion design so started experimenting with macrame and fiber arts. Currently focusing more on the fiber arts and experimenting with what is possible with it. Currently living in Georgia working as a full time artist.
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