Wildlings From the Deep: An Exhibition of Undersea Photography
May 31 – September 13, 2009
Two-thirds of the earth is covered with water, and yet mankind knows little of this underwater world, partly because it is hidden from our eyes. The undersea wilderness of sea mountains, kelp forests, and sea creatures is gradually being revealed through the technology of submersibles, deep-sea instruments, and photography, and we are indebted to scientists and artists alike for our growing appreciation of this underwater world. For some time, the Wildling Art Museum has wanted to feature some of the best images of this undersea life off of America’s coasts, and so it is with great pleasure that we introduce Wildlings from the Deep, a sampling of photographs, both color and black and white, by three artists who have trained their lights, their lenses, or their scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) on some of the denizens of the deep, large and small, so that we landlubbers can gain a greater appreciation of the range and diversity of off-shore sea life.
We are indebted to our co-curators, Dr. F.G. (Eric) Hochberg, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, and to Karen Sinsheimer, Curator of Photography at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, for bringing the work of Ernest H. Brooks II, Claudia Fährenkemper, and Richard Salas to our attention, and for handling all the details of this complicated undertaking so brilliantly.
~ Elizabeth Knowles
The Food Chain
The oceans of the world swarm with plant and animal life of all sizes. The underlying theme for this exhibition is to represent a diversity of marine organisms from multiple levels in the food chain. In every energy pyramid, the plants and animals at the bottom of the pyramid are microscopic and extremely abundant. As you move up through the food chain, the animals become fewer in number and much larger in size. Diatoms, dinoflagellates, coccolithophorids, foraminiferans, and radiolarians form a complex world of single-cell plankton that live and reproduce in sunlit surface waters. These microscopic organisms support life at all levels higher up in the food chain. Large, top-level, free-swimming predators, such as fishes, sharks, seals, and sea lions, prey on many kinds of smaller fishes and other animals. In between the plankton and large predators are numerous sedentary organisms that live in complex, multi-layered communities on the sea bottom, on or in hard or soft substrates. Invertebrates such as sponges, anemones, sea fans, sea stars, sea urchins, snails, and slugs feed by capturing food that drifts by, or they move over the surface of the substrate grazing on attached seaweeds and other small encrusting invertebrate animals.
Diving into the undersea world for the first time, the Wildling Art Museum showcases the work of three exceptional photographers in the exhibition Wildlings from the Deep. With a cast of ocean-going personalities, both micro and macroscopic, each artist captures unique aspects of the diverse and elegant watery world that comprises an amazingly complex ecosystem.
German photographer Claudia Fährenkemper has spent the last 15 years of her career exploring microcosms of plant seeds, insects, shells, frog larvae, and crystals. For this exhibition she focuses on images of plankton created using a scanning electron microscope (SEM). With scientific precision and an artistic eye, she reveals what the naked eye can neither see nor the mind imagine. “Plankton,” a name that derives from the Greek root meaning “wanderer” or “drifter,” are single-cell organisms that are essential components of the food chain. They are translated, through Fährenkemper’s vision and technical precision, into elegant architectural structures that are not only stable but delicate as well.
Separated from their underwater environment and made larger than life through extensive magnification, Fährenkemper’s photographs of plankton are, at the same time, both familiar and strange. In their symmetry and form, they seem to have emerged from the hand of an artist, but in truth they are produced in the mind of the artist, who creates and renders her larger-than-life microcosmic organisms through selective focus and visual analysis. Her razorsharp black-and-white images suggest a perfection of form that is as seductive as multifaceted gems and as elegant as Gothic architecture with its ribbed vaults and filigreed columns. Through the artist’s inversion of scale, the structural bones of some of these microscopic organisms seem as sturdy as steel girders, while others are as sensuous as ripe fruit. Fährenkemper’s process is complex and difficult; a merging of art and science as she removes, isolates, backgrounds, and reconstructs her microcosms of species into images. Her transformations are breathtaking in their seamless fusion of order and beauty – science and art – which she sees in the natural world.
Ernest H. Brooks II has spent decades photographing in aqueous environments around the globe. Driven by immense curiosity and an insatiable sense of adventure, Brooks brings back images from his underwater journeys that are an unknown experience to most viewers. Using only ambient light that touches the sea and is then filtered through layer upon layer of the watery deep, Brooks reveals the forms and shadows of sea-going creatures in black-and-white photographs that are showcased in his classic book, Silver Seas: A Retrospective. The photographer’s image of a Blue Shark, encountered off Anacapa Island, captures both the perfection of function and the elegance of form of this ancient, top level predator. Science and art merge in this singular image, as well as in his photographs of other sea creatures, such as the Vase Coral with its seductive patterns and textures. A school of Pacific Jack Mackerel being corralled by two Harbor Seals (off camera) near Santa Cruz Island swim in silvered precision, and the bubbles emerging from a diver’s tank emulate those of a Sea Lion. Brooks is at one with his underwater environment, and he has become its voice through his art. Brooks’ commitment to preserving the oceanic environment, with all its creatures, has resulted in a rich legacy of imagery. In his investigations of the Silver Seas, Brooks has provided land hugging dwellers an extraordinary glimpse into the 70% of the world that exists underwater.
In direct contrast to the precisionist approach of Fährenkemper, and the classic black-and-white images of Brooks, Richard Salas dove into the coastal waters that surround the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary and the waters from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. Over the course of the last five years, the photographer explored the undersea metropolis filled with amazing sea life, both playful and sinister, with a display of colors, textures, and forms that are beyond earthbound imagining. Salas’ photographs of individual fish are like ancestral portraits that seek to convey the personality and essence of the sitter (in this case, swimmer). The artist captures a Sheephead, who casts a curious but dignified eye, while the Lingcod seems to offer his/her best profile for the camera. The long years spent photographing subjects in his studio influenced Salas’ approach, and he captures remarkably sentient moments with fish that transcend brilliant color or strangeness of form. Salas’ underwater seascapes glisten like jewels, the facets, forms, and colors of the complex plant and animal life captured because of his special technique and patient approach. The artist learned the art of play, undersea-fashion, as the Sea Lions let him know that friendship is give-and-take. Salas’ images of wide-eyed Sea Lions, looking for all the world like mischievous children, are the result of years spent being part of the ocean-dwelling community. The microscopic elegance of Claudia Fährenkemper’s plankton subjects, seen in juxtaposition to the shadowed and nuanced photographs by Ernie Brooks, stand in rich contrast to the vibrant, exotic seascape pictured by Richard Salas. Taken together, the images of the three photographers in the exhibition Wildlings from the Deep offer an intriguing glimpse into the infinitely fascinating and complex life that exists beyond our earthbound gaze in our proverbial aqueous backyard.
~ Karen Sinsheimer & F.G. Hochberg
Ernest H. Brooks II (1935- )
Ambassador to the marine environment, photographer, adventurer, diver, and educator, Ernest H. Brooks II has often been referred to as the Ansel Adams of underwater photography. He is the son of Ernest H. Brooks, who founded the internationally renowned Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara in 1945. Brooks followed in his father’s footsteps as a photographer and later diver and educator. He graduated from Brooks Institute and subsequently served on the school’s executive staff for a number of years. In 1971 he assumed the office of President, a position he held until 1999, when the Institute was sold to Career Education Corporation. Throughout his long tenure as the head of Brooks Institute, Brooks has carried out the duties that come with that corporate territory, including serving as a keynote speaker at photography conventions; working with national and international organizations and companies to enhance the industry; encouraging photographic education; and promoting photography as a universal language. Along the way, while fulfilling the responsibilities of his office, his achievements earned him numerous accolades and awards. He has been elected to the Underwater Photography Hall of Fame, listed in the Who’s Who in Scuba Diving, and honored by the Underwater Society of America and the Professional Photographers of America. He has led the way in the development of underwater photographic equipment and techniques. Brooks photographic legacy is evident in the images that illustrate the dramatic changes in our oceans, and he has supported oceanic exploration and the preservation of our marine environmental heritage.
Claudia Fährenkemper (1959- )
A native of Germany, Claudia Fährenkemper studied Art and Geography at the University of Düsseldorf and obtained her degree there in 1986. Over several years (1987 to 1989), she made extensive trips with a large-format camera through canyon and desert landscapes in the American Southwest. In 1987 she decided to study Art/Photography, initially in the class of Arno Jansen at the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne and later under Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Art Academy in Düsseldorf. In 1994 she transferred into the class of Nan Hoover, where she finished her studies as a master-class student in 1995. Between 1993 and 1996, Fährenkemper taught photography at the University of Siegen, Germany. In 2000 she was invited (by Canadian photographer Lynne Cohen) to be a Visiting Artist at the University of Canada in Ottawa. At present (2009) she is Artist-in-Residence in Great Britain at Fermynwoods. After working for a number of years (1988 to 1993) on an extensive photographic series of large coal mining machines in German strip mines, she changed direction, dimension, theme, and medium in 1994. For her ongoing photomicrographic studies of tiny objects from nature, such as plankton and also plant seeds, insects, sea shells, frog larvae, and crystals, Fährenkemper has used a scanning electron microscope at the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, Germany.
Richard Salas (1955- )
Richard Salas graduated in 1975 with a degree in Photography and Multi Media from Los Angeles City College. Prior to entering Brooks Institute of Photography, he worked for several years at the Santa Barbara Underseas Foundation as a marine educator. In 1979 he received a BA degree from Brooks Institute, with a combined major in Illustration Photography and Underwater Photography. While at Brooks Institute he studied under the tutelage of Brooks on his motor vessel “Just Love.” In 1977, Salas was the first finalist in the Our World Underwater Scholarship program based in Chicago. Following graduation he continued a career in studio photography, where he gained extensive experience that would be of considerable help in visualizing the underwater world. For many years Salas has chronicled the beauty of California’s underwater world. During the last five years in particular, Salas has braved the cold waters and unpredictable currents to bring us a truly memorable collection of portraits and seascapes from the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary. Not content to simply record well-known life forms, Salas uses dramatic lighting to uncover a world you would scarcely imagine. It is a world of never-ending color and texture, inhabited by a cast of ocean-going personalities ranging from the comical to the sinister. And all just a few miles off our beautifully familiar California coastline. The results are to be found in his soon to be published book, entitled Sea of Light.
Ernest H. Brooks II
All works are pigment prints.
Blue in Profile (Blue Shark – Prionace glauca) CALIFORNIA, Anacapa Passage; September 1981 Courtesy of Media 27
Clowns of the Sea (California Sea Lion – Zalophus californianus) CALIFORNIA, Santa Barbara Island; April 1993 Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Ty Warner Sea Center
Kissin’ Cousins (California Sea Lion – Zalophus californianus) CALIFORNIA, Santa Barbara Island; January 1994 Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Ty Warner Sea Center
Luminous Bells CALIFORNIA, Santa Cruz Island, Diablo Anchorage; 1993 Courtesy of Media 27
Magic Fingers (Golden Gorgonian – Muricea californica) CALIFORNIA, Anacapa Island; April 1990 Courtesy of Media 27
School (Pacific Jack Mackerel – Trachurus symmetricus) CALIFORNIA, Santa Cruz Island; August 1983 Courtesy of Media 27
Spot (Harbor Seal – Phoca vitulina) CALIFORNIA, Anacapa Island; August 1990 Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Ty Warner Sea Center
Sun and the Moon (Moon Jellyfish – Aurelia aurita) CALIFORNIA, Monterey Bay; September 1994 Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Ty Warner Sea Center
Symmetry (Giant Bladder Kelp – Macrocystis pyrifera) CALIFORNIA, Sutil Island, off San Miguel Island; April 1989 Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Ty Warner Sea Center
Vase Coral (Staghorn Coral – Acropora hyacinthus) PHILIPPINES, Sula Sea, S. Tubbataha; March 1996 Courtesy of Media 27
All works are gelatin silver prints
courtesy of the photographer/artist
5-06-7: 3000x; 2006
12-06-3: 800x; 2006
41-05-1: 800x; 2005
42-05-5: 5000x; 2005
7-06-3: 2000x; 2006
16-06-3: 1500x; 2006
23-05-10: 25x; 2005
25-05-1: 80x; 2005
26-05-2: 60x; 2005
26-05-5: 60x; 2005
44-05-5: 125x; 2005
47-05-2: 30x; 2005
48-05-1: 25x; 2005
37-05-10: 1000x; 2005
39-05-3: 800x; 2005
40-05-6: 400x; 2005
40-05-7: 500x; 2005
44-05-7: 500x; 2005
44-05-10: 400x; 2005
45-05-06: 400x; 2005
46-05-5: 400x; 2005
47-05-1: 500x; 2005
48-05-2: 400x; 2005
48-05-4: 400x; 2005
48-05-9: 250x; 2005
48-05-10: 800x; 2005
49-05-2: 400x; 2005
49-05-5: 500x; 2005
49-05-6: 500x; 2005
The above numerical annotations indicate: image number; specimen magnification; and year the SEM photograph was taken.
All works are pigment prints courtesy of the photographer/artist
Purple-Ringed Topsnail (Calliostoma annulatum) CALIFORNIA, Anacapa Island; September 2006
Rainbow Star (Orthasterias koehleri) [close-up of arm surface] CALIFORNIA, Anacapa Island; September 2006
Red Sea Urchin & Purple Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus & Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) CALIFORNIA, Santa Cruz Island; July 2007
Solitary Anemone (Anthopleura sola) CALIFORNIA, San Miguel Island, Wilson’s Rock; May 2006
Spanish Shawl Nudibranch (Flabellina iodinea) CALIFORNIA, Santa Rosa Island; June 2006
Sunflower Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) CALIFORNIA, Santa Cruz Island; September 2008
Sunflower Star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) [close-up of tube feet] CALIFORNIA, Santa Barbara Island; April 2008
Yellowfin Fringehead (Neoclinus stephensae) CALIFORNIA, Santa Cruz Island; July 2006
Yellow Umbrella Slug (Tylodina fungina) CALIFORNIA, Santa Catalina Island; August 2005
Yellow Zoanthid Anemone (Epizoanthus giveni) CALIFORNIA, San Clemente Island; August 2007
CALIFORNIA, San Miguel Island; April 2008
California Sea Lions
CALIFORNIA, Santa Barbara Island;
CALIFORNIA, San Miguel Island; August 2006
California Spiny Lobster
CALIFORNIA, San Clemente Island, 9-Fathom Reef;
CALIFORNIA, Santa Barbara Island; August 2007
CALIFORNIA, Santa Rosa Island; May 2006
Forest of Giant Bladder Kelp
CALIFORNIA, Santa Cruz Island; April 2008
Giant Keyhole Limpet
CALIFORNIA, Santa Cruz Island; September 2008
Gopher Rockfish & Purple Hydrocoral
(Sebastes carnatus & Stylaster californicus)
CALIFORNIA, Santa Catalina Island; August 2007
CALIFORNIA, Santa Cruz Island; February 2007
Pacific Jack Mackerel
CALIFORNIA, San Clemente Island; August 2006