Alex Kirkbride

About 10 years ago I decided to attempt to figure out why I became an underwater photographer. People kept asking me how I got into this type of work. I was always struggling with an answer. It wasn't as if I saw Jacques Cousteau one day on the T.V. and had an epiphany. I mean I grew up in London and the English countryside - not much clear water in the nighbourhood !

So I've decided to tell you about my water influences as a boy and a young man, since these experiences are some of the reasons why I take these type of images. So I hope this is of some interest to anyone who has kindly taken the time to search for this blurb!

My first water experience came at the tender age of 6 months at my great aunt's summer house in Upper St. Regis Lake in the Adirondacks, New York State, America. She had an old Garwood boat and my mother would place me in it to sleep since I enjoyed the slow, continuous rocking movement. Apparently I loved this and every afternoon my mother would leave me there for hours !

I believe my first underwater experience was when I learnt how to swim at the age of 5. The first day at the pool all the kids were standing around and the instructor walked to the deep end and jumped in and swam two lengths of the pool underwater. This completely amazed me and blew my very young brain - how is it possible for a human to do that ? I was utterly baffled and fascinated and to this day I have strong feelings when I think about that moment. Consequently I firmly believe my underwater seed was sown that day in 1965 for my water journey.

At the age of 9 I was on holiday in Malta with my mother, brother and sister. My mum was learning how to scuba dive and I remember watching her go in and out of the water. This was my first experience of scuba but what I remember most about that holiday was learning how to snorkel. I don't think I grasped what scuba diving was but snorkeling I could do and participate in. On the last day of the holiday I saw a dead sea urchin's shell on the seabed floor and I really wanted to take it home. It was a little deep for me and it was right beside a live sea urchin with its black needles protecting my desire. I remember diving down repeatedly until I finally managed to get it. I was very pleased with myself but the shell broke on the way back home ! This was my first diving/snorkeling experience. Now the only the only thing I take out of the ocean are photographs.

The first time I was seriously affected by the amazing colours of the sea was in the Greek Islands, Mykonos to be exact. We took a boat to the beach every day and watching the different aquamarine shades had a profound affect on my developing creative eye. I simply could not believe nature could produce such astounding colours. I was 16 at the time. My very first photo ( the green wave ) on the first page of this collection is a direct influence from that experience.At around 19 years old I somehow came up with the idea of underwater photography. To this day I have no idea where this came from, it's not as if I watched Jack Cousteau one day and had an epiphany ! So I took a scuba diving course that summer while I was staying with my godmother in New York City over from London, where I grew up, and 3 years later I was taking an instructor's training class in Hollywood Florida. From there I was offered a job in Jamaica where I started a dive operation. After a year I moved to San Salvador in the Bahamas as it had the best underwater photography facility in the Caribbean at the time. This is where I began taking underwater photographs, September 1982 to be exact. I was not allowed to take a camera in the water during the day since that would interfere with my dive master (underwater guide) duties, so I would go night diving on my own time.

During my adolescence my father would take my siblings and I on holiday once a year. We always went to an island of some sort in the Mediterranean so I was around clear water once a year therefore it is hardly suprising that I ended up living and working in Jamaica and the Bahamas. Unfortunately that dive operation closed down after 4 months but The Rum Cay Club needed an extra dive master so I moved to that island which was 19 miles away. I was very fortunate because there the dive masters were required to take pictures of the guests. This was fantastic for me and proved to be an incredible training ground. Many of the photographs of this series are from that time.Therefore this collection is partly homage to my beginning as an underwater photographer on Rum Cay, where I learned my craft and began developing my creative style. It was an amazing 2 years and the experience changed my life. Having had no proper photographic education I learned by trial and error and the kind advice from a few professionals who visited the island.

Leni Riefenstahl was one of those professionals. I showed my very first slide show to her and 10 other people, which comprised of my first 15 images, which were correctly exposed. She didn't say anything about the show but she was very gracious and taught me a couple of invaluable things. Get low and shoot up and that it takes a long time, be patient. Thank you Leni, your words and generous encouragement have always been with me. I loved taking her diving because she was such an inspiration. Here she was, over 80 years old, in 120 feet of water and not worried about it because all she wanted was the photograph!

The remainder of the collection are personal images I managed to "nip in" during assignments. When I work in the water I attempt to focus on my emotional side and try nd find the spirit of the place I'm in at that moment. When I'm on location I deliberately do not take magazines from my land-based existence. This way I can keep my mind clear and away from the cluttered western world and focus on the purity of nature.

Well if you're still reading thanks for plowing through this and I hope you enjoy my photographs, take care.

Alex Kirkbride