I was going through old photos to pick a few I needed for a certain project, when I came across this one. It made me think of how great it is to have good friends to go on diving vacations with. I mean, some people go in vacation on their own, and they make friends along the way, and that is cool. But it’s really great to have really good friends you can count on, to make your vacation days even better, just with their presence and, really, the pleasure of their company, and the brightness of their smiles.
Archive for the ‘musings’ Category
Smooth Trunkfish Juveniles are about the size of a pea. They hover in sheltered areas among corals, using small pectoral fins that can be barely seen with the naked eye. When I first saw this one, I didn’t have my camera with me,so made a mental note that it was near a certain sea fan, by a certain square rock. The next day, my buddies and I went back to Karpata, and this time I had my camera with me. I looked around for a certain square rock, near a certain sea fan, and I was glad to see that my little friend was still there.
As with many other marine creatures, it takes a little bit of patience to get a good look at these little guys. Seaweed Blennies can reach 3 inches in length, but are wary of lumbering divers, and prefer to retreat inside their coralline homes when they are approached too hastily. This particular one was in the shallows at Something Special in Bonaire, near the marina, only a few feet away from the underwater webcam.
Secretary Blennies live inside small worm holes, and seem to feel secure in their tiny homes. Their brains may be small, but they probably have figured out that divers are not trying to eat them. Although, sometimes, they do get a little too close, and that’s when it’s time for the Secretary Blenny to pull The One Trick it knows: retreating into the hole and waiting until the big shadow has gone away. Patient divers can get quite close if they move slowly and approach gradually. These one-inch long fish have very expressive faces that are interesting to watch, and may occasionally dart out of their holes to grab suspended particles of food.
At Karpata, on Bonaire, in the Dutch Antilles, there is a coral, near a certain sea fan, by a certain square rock, where in March 2010 lived a tiny fish that looks like a black pea with yellow polka dots. The Redlip Blenny in this photo lives on the same coral. If a diver is patient and able to stay in one place while being “gently” swept back and forth by the surge, the Blenny will allow the diver to approach and reward the curious human with a nice smile.
The Brothers Islands are in the middle of the Red Sea. These two specks of land are practically made of coral. That’s actually true: the Red Sea used to be higher, even at the time of the Roman Empire, when these two island were mostly submerged. Millennia of coral growth have brought us these two islands, and as you can see, they are still definitely in the realm of coral. Near the surface there’s the best light, and that’s where I spied this pair of Red Sea Raccoon Butterflyfish. What I like about this shot is the mix of natural and artificial light, and, of course, the reef! That’s what it all looks like over there, and it’s absolutely worth the travel time. A lot of people see this picture and think it’s an aquarium shot, because it almost looks fake. Funny how we got it all backwards: we expect what looks like perfection to be artificial, while the natural version is often disappointing. Well, it’s good to know that natural perfection still exists, although we may have to travel a long way to get there. But it’s still there.
It often happens, during dive trips, that the guide will give a briefing about something outstanding before a dive, and divers will listen and say, yeah, sure, I’ll check it out. Later, during the dive, most divers forget about what they heard because they are completely taken away with the immediacy of the dive, and then all of sudden, turn a corner, and WOW! that was outstanding – uh, right, *that’s* what the guide was talking about! Well, at Daedulus, in the Red Sea, there’s an anemone city that’s worth diving every day. There are tens and tens of anemone and each one of them is populated – teeming – with Clownfish, like this Amphiprion bicinctus. Some of them adults, most of them juveniles, hundreds of them. So if you want a nice picture of them, it’s just a matter of time, aim, wait, and you will be rewarded.
We have all seen cleaner wrasses and gobies doing their thing around larger fish, who diligently show up at cleaning stations just like SUVs at a car wash. But what I don’t often see is a cleaner fish taking a break inside the mouth of the fish being cleaned, like this Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) resting in the mouth of a Giant Moray (Gymnothorax javanicus). Now, to be honest, the wrasse was not resting all that comfortably, but that’s probably not because the moray, which was about 6 or 7 feet long, could have swallowed it in a few milliseconds. It was because of me, that unusual blob of stinky neoprene with light-emitting protuberances, hovering there, checking them out. I tried not to abuse their tolerance and left after a couple of shots. In the end, no picture is worth harassing the very creatures we have traveled around the world to admire. Sometimes we get lucky, and this time I got to take home this great shot that tells us a lot about different species figuring out a way to do business that’s beneficial for all. Now if only some business executive could learn from that.
Well, it looks like I am going to be dry for a while. It’s time to go back into the old photo collection to dig up little jewels that have been set aside to be reconsidered later, only to be completely lost to the large black hole that forms in our memory once we turn 40. For example, I was looking through some Turks and Caicos photos to make a large print of the shark eye, when I saw this shark mug, which had been deemed not-good-enough back then.
Now, that’s not so bad, is it? It’s got spunk, the little cute guy. You see some nice Caribbean sun light on its back, and some strobe light on its pretty face. This and a few other Caribbean Reef Sharks were very interested in the high-pitch sound the strobes make when they’re recharging, and stayed with us for about half an hour, until it was time for us to ascend because we were running out of air and we were loaded with nitrogen. It wasn’t deep, but many of the dive sites visited by the Turks and Caicos Explorer start at 30 or 40 feet, so there’s nothing to do while going back up but floating in the blue, letting the nitrogen go.
It seems like I’m complaining, but that beats sitting on this couch on a February night waiting for the snow to come and cover the Northeast. Not only it beats it, it blows it full out of the water. Water, mmh, I guess I’m circling back to it. But I’m going to be dry for a while…
I have been trying to pin down a “70% Water” mission statement for a while, but as anyone who has ever tried to do such thing very well knows, it is hard. It seems simple at first; in fact, all you have to do is say what you want your mission to be. How hard can it be? You know why you started doing what you’re doing. But when you try to put it into words, it becomes a game of compromise between a narrowly defined goal, which you may quickly outgrow while it already makes you feel boxed in, and a sweeping, ambitious quasi-evil plan of world domination.
In my case, is it really just underwater photography? I have to be honest, I don’t spend enough time underwater to realistically hope to make a meaningful contribution to the “underwater photography scene”, at least not in the next five years. I am too impatient for that. Photography is something I want to do because I enjoy doing it. But photography is a vast field with countless specializations and many, many different and ever-growing new niches. Why limit myself to underwater nature close-up digital stock photography? Would it be too ambitious to add wide-angle? Or above-water? Or non-nature? Why not go all the way to artsy abstract black and white surrealistic views of abandoned neighborhoods?
So, that’s the question, where to draw the line. In writing a mission statement, it helps if you’re capable of wide stroke generalizations and blurry concept, also known as marketing- or lawyer-speak, as opposed to literal, exact definitions, which is typical of geeky computer programmers, like me.
This is the best I can do, so far: “The purpose of Seventy Percent Water is to portray in images the connections among water, life and humanity“. This includes a lot of possible subject matter, and that’s probably good for now, because I am an amateur who needs practice. Maybe after I spend enough time doing this, I will be able to narrow it down more. For now, this mission statement already excludes many, many possibilities: no pictures of schoolchildren, rocks, bicycles, homeless people, live chickens, local ball games, Russian criminal tattoos, or pizza slices, unless they have something to do with water. I think the main point is that water has to be part of each picture, or at least be implied, as in the image of a water taxi docking at Brooklyn Heights.
A beneficial side-effect of this tremendous brain-squeezing effort is that with a mission statement you generally get a tag line for free. In fact, after producing the one-liner above, it was a easy to extract the tag line which now embellishes the top of this blog page, “Images of water, life and humanity”. Another benefit of the vague-sounding statement is that water does not need to be in the image, it just has to be implied. So for example, the picture of a fairly well-known bridge can work, because most people know that it spans above a body of water.
Overall, I am pretty satisfied with this mission statement, at least for now. I gives me a theme to work on, and enough room to keep exploring subjects while I find interesting avenues to pursue – while I am stuck in dry-land between dive trips. I am sure that the experience I gain while practicing on land will translate into better underwater images. Sure, I don’t have an underwater tripod, and there isn’t much artificial ambient light in the places I go diving that I’ll be able to produce this kind of photographs, but in terms of learning to juggle in my mind all the variables involved in making good photography, I think I can use all the practice I can get.
Many years ago, when Angela and I had just gotten married, we went to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean for a week. Back then we were still living in Italy, fully immersed in the mindless, localized culture of the place, and lost in the blissful ignorance of our younger years, and for these reasons, I suppose, we were easily impressed. Or at least I was – Angela was definitely more cosmopolitan than me. But anyway, among the variety of beautiful things we were exposed to, there happened to be… fish.
Colorful, plentiful, curious fish, juveniles of tropical fish living in the shallow reef near the resort, which we went to visit daily on afternoon boat trips, armed with mask, snorkel and fins. We would float around and marvel at the colorful fish, the mysterious domes of coral, and we would be freaked out by the thorny appearance of the staghorn coral, so shallow at moments, that I remember sucking my belly in while floating above it, in the valley between wave crests. Little black and white striped Sergeant Majors would come and face us, so close to our nose that sometimes they were successful at their attempts to intimidate us. Silliness. Awe. The natural world. Tropical climate. The discovery of a new submerged planet. We fucking loved it.
Back home, in Livorno, we got our scuba certification, and started diving in the Mediterranean sea. There wasn’t much to see, honestly, mostly rocks and algae, with the occasional fish, a token sunken frozen fish transport boat (il Genepesca), garbage, and other divers. Well, it wasn’t so bad, especially at Elba and Capraia, but it was good enough to get us through the neophyte stage, when all the new scuba gear is unfamiliar, the water is deep and scary, and everyone else seems to be a lot more experienced.
And so it was, that’s how Angela and I started diving, and there were many diving trips afterwards, but those stories are for another day.