A Rolleimarin 1, which focused down only to 1m. To get close-ups, Tim Glover added a large condenser lens and enlarger and placed it outside the camera-case in the water. The close-up lens has strips of black Perspex stuck to it. The homemade 100-jou
50 Years behind the lens
THE SIXTH BRIGHTON CONFERENCE was held at the University of Sussex over the weekend of 16-18 April, 1965, sponsored and organised by BSAC’s Brighton branch and DIVER’S predecessor Triton magazine.
One of its big attractions was that it included the very first International Festival of Underwater Film.
Colin Doeg, later co-founder of the British Society of Underwater Photographers with Peter Scoones, is the diver who took the first photograph in British waters ever to win an open underwater photographic competition, and also the first photo in the world of a basking shark feeding.
Colin was British Underwater Photographer of the Year in 1968, and recalls what it was like being an underwater photographer at the time:
“There have been two dramatic changes in underwater photography since the ground-breaking conferences at Brighton,” he says. “Back then it was a triumph to emerge from the water with a couple of recognisable images out of 36 on a roll of film.
“Today, as long as you have the wit to turn the tiny knob to A for Automatic, you’re virtually assured that the resulting image will be technically correct. Whether it’ll be any good photographically is a different matter.
“The other advance is that now you can check whether the image you’ve just taken is any good just by looking at the screen on the back of the camera. That really is fantastic. It’s the most marvellous learning tool you could ever have.
“Fifty years ago we never knew whether anything would even come out until we were able to process the film or get it done for us at a lab. An entire trip could be wasted if something wasn’t right with your equipment or your photo techniques.
“Back then I used to process my films in a tent and wash them in the campsite washbasin. Well, the seven shillings and sixpence paperback that was my ‘bible’ said it was a good thing to process your films as soon as possible after you’d taken the pictures, so you knew if you were making any mistakes.
“Now all you have to do is stick the memory card in a laptop and, voila, there are the images.
“That’s all very well, but today it’s just as hard, possibly even harder, to take a winning image. Fifty years ago the challenge was to overcome the limitations of film and equipment, as well as the general diving conditions if you were working in the UK’s cold and green waters.
“Most underwater photographers were divers who decided to try to take pictures so that they could show other people what the underwater world was like. Very few were photographers before they started diving, so they were starting from scratch. The first camera I owned was bought purely to put in a crude housing and take under water.
“A photograph I took of sunlight streaming through the strands of stringweed in Kimmeridge Bay remains the first image taken in British waters to win an open underwater competition.
“Furthermore, it’s never been repeated in over 50 years – probably thanks to a quirk of the different glasses used in the lens and the port of a Rolleimarin.
“In those days we used to hump a Zodiac and an outboard engine down cliff paths to dive from remote beaches. Much more fun than boarding a RIB in a convenient harbour and then cruising along the coast to find a dive-site.”
SO MANY of the items of diving equipment we take for granted today had yet to be invented. Photographers may have been among the first to really appreciate neutral buoyancy, along with the possibility of being heavier or lighter to order.
The Fenzy ABLJ first saw the light of day in 1963, but was more easily available by 1965 and would become very popular among serious photographers.
Fortunately the average diver was still fairly lightly equipped and uncluttered, and made an altogether more svelte figure than today’s typical diver.
Many divers were still using twin-hose regulators, which kept the bubbles away from your face, but the single-hose reg was steadily taking over.
Photographers in 1965 were looking for a housing for their favourite camera, and those with the appropriate skills were building one themselves.
In some cases the result would be a very reliable piece of engineering such as the Rolleimarin, designed around the Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex.
This gave a 6 x 6cm slide or negative, but only 12 shots before reloading. It gave great definition compared with a 35mm format camera, but was quite a weight to handle in the water.
In 1962 diving’s finest had gathered in London for a World Congress and CMAS Conference and there, hanging from the shoulder of Jacques Cousteau, we got our first glimpse of the Calypsophot.
This is where the revolution began that gave us a camera we could take on any dive or use under any conditions – the first real underwater camera, no housing required.
Even Rolleimarin users could often be seen with a Calypsophot as a back-up. It was soon to be replaced by the Nikonos, but the compact camera had arrived on the diving scene!
WHERE TO DIVE TO GET THE BEST PHOTOS It was difficult in 1965 to find dive operators in the Red Sea, or an affordable way of getting there.
However, Egypt’s decision to nationalise the Philips factory there had created an opening via Philips’s home country, the Netherlands.
The International Skindivers Association had set up a base on the island of Giftun Saghir, not far from Hurghada, and an inclusive two-week diving holiday was available for £80 each (£1416 in today’s money). We just had to add £12 for a flight to Amsterdam.
The onward flight to Cairo was via United Arab Airlines DC6B, then we’d spend a couple of nights in Cairo before the minibus ride to Hurghada.
Our group of four from BSAC London Branch included Tim Glover and Geoff Harwood, who were also competitors in the Brighton competition. As far as we know, we were the only British divers on holiday in the Egyptian Red Sea in 1965.
We weren’t sure what to expect, as the only available reading on diving there was based on the adventures of a certain J Cousteau, but we weren’t disappointed, and soon got used to those warm, clear waters and the wonderful variety of colourful fish and coral.
There was a Colour Transparencies category in that 1965 Brighton photo competition, but with little press demand for underwater pictures in colour (four-colour printing was expensive), photographers had yet to show a major interest.
This is what Diver International magazine had to say about that first competition: “Many people in the audience were surprised at the judges’ choice in the Stills section. Prizes were won by photos taken in swimming pools, aquariums and even by ‘dark room’ photographs. It was difficult to see what the judges were looking for. It was certainly not underwater photographs.
“Only one of the seven judges had any diving experience, let alone experience of underwater photography or filming. This showed to quite a degree in the results.”
Today we can be confident that competition entries will be judged by some of the best and most experienced underwater photographers available.