Then and Now
What’s your opinion of the tech movement?»I think there’s a place for it. It’s not enough to make the sport grow. I had four friends who were good tech divers but they didn’t make it.
What about today’s equipment?»One of the things that makes it tough on the diving business is that equipment lasts too long. If you’re in the camera business you got to get your shoes on because it’s changing so fast. But in diving, there’s not a lot of reason to buy stuff. Things don’t change much.
How did you get started in underwater photography?»Connie and those guys picked Ron Church to run a film section at the store. Ron was the photographer for Convair; I think his early background was aerial photography. We used to go out with an old Rolleimarine with 12 exposures. He’d shoot while I looked for a subject, then I’d shoot while he’d look for a subject and we’d come in with six pictures apiece. Now you can go down and shoot 350 pictures if you want. Ron and I got along pretty well. It was his idea to start Underwater Photographic Society (UPS). He built a darkroom in the back of the store. That was our aim: to build a business out the Diving Locker name. When Connie Limbaugh died in a diving accident, his wife, Nan, asked if I wanted his camera gear. So all of a sudden I had a fairly sophisticated 16mm camera and a Rolleimarine. I had a base. I had the wonderful friendship of guys like Wheeler and Jimmy that would steer photography to me. I had Ron to help me, and could get away, because after a couple of years there were other employees. It was a big advantage to be able to get away. When a job came up, a lot of other fellows couldn’t do it because they worked five days a week. Convair would call with their submarine stuff and I would get involved. At first I was scraping money together to buy a roll of film. Later it was, I just sold a picture so I can buy some more film.
Your big break came on a whale shoot, didn’t it?»That’s right. One day in the early 1960s, we were diving off La Jolla on Al Santmeyer’s boat, Duchess. Heading across the bay, we spotted a whale spouting. It was a Bryde’s whale caught in a net, the ropes digging into its flukes. It was weak from trying to breathe and barely struggling. Bill De Court and I jumped in, dived to 20 feet, and cut the whale loose… shooting pictures all the time. It was just one of these things that hit at the right time. Nobody knew anything about whales then. Our pictures were in the paper, in Time magazine; people were calling from everywhere to interview us because we rode a whale. So this got a lot of publicity. I was getting a lot of calls, “You’re the guy who shot the whale, can you shoot this?” So the first thing you know, I was doing more of that kind of thing.