Dry Tortugas National Park is a special place. I first saw the Gibraltar of the Gulf appear out to the azure waters back in 1994. I was wet behind the ears as a film school grad who had patted his resume to get a spot with the legendary NPS SCRU team for a summer project. It was that summer that I found my career. Well, at least I though so - it took an additional seven years to convince the NPS. Returning back to the Fort this summer for a three weeks has given me the opportunity to visit the sites I spent so many submerged hours working with the archeologist to map. It feels like visiting an old friend. It has also given me the opportunity to realize just how little I know about underwater photography when I first started.
Sure the photography world has changed. We are shooting several hundred digital images on a card with the instant gratification of an LCD screen. It’s difficult to remember the pains of 36 exposures on the film-based Nikonos systems. More than the technology, it was my approach to the discipline of underwater photography. When I started, as with most new uw shooters, I was satisfied to create a properly exposed, well framed image and simply replicate an underwater scene. Today, I find myself viewing a landscape or shipwreck in my minds eye and trying to create that, not the image the camera wants to give me. I don’t want to get all philosophical and pretentious about underwater photography as an art, but there is a difference in those who take a picture vs those who create a photograph. Since that first summer in the Dry Tortugas, every dive, every frame, I have worked to be the latter.
So, I’m back where this photographic journey began for me. Much has changed in my life, little has stayed the same. I thought when I began this adventure there was no greater joy than traveling the world and shooting underwater. Of course that was the mantra of transient youth. Today, I know there is no greater joy than having a loving wife and two awesome sons to share the travel and assignments with. I have great hopes of a couple of camera assistants in the future. The fact they can put up with the transient adult lifestyle constantly amazes me. The next time I find myself at the Fort, they will be with me.