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Alert Diver is the dive industry’s leading publication. Featuring DAN’s core content of dive safety, research, education and medical information, each issue is a must-read reference, archived and shared by passionate scuba enthusiasts. In addition, Alert Diver showcases fascinating dive destinations and marine environmental topics through images from the world’s greatest underwater photographers and stories from the most experienced and eloquent dive journalists in the business.

IMAGING SHOOTER 94 |

IMAGING SHOOTER 94 | SUMMER 2016

STEPHEN FRINK: You seemed to know at a very young age that underwater photography would be your life’s passion, but it must have been clear to you that you would have to travel beyond Lake Zurich. When did you venture out from home and begin to see the wider world of scuba diving? KURT AMSLER: Some underwater photographers come to their careers by being scuba divers who learn to shoot. Then there are those like me who are photographers first and then learn to shoot underwater. After I finished high school I enrolled in the School of Art and Photography in Zurich. I was just 16 then and attended for four years, graduating with skills in studio photography, darkroom techniques, outdoor photography and portraiture. But the thought of doing more and better underwater photography was never far from my mind. I bought my first Calypso PHOT camera with a bulb flash attachment in 1963, and finally I had quality gear I could use for underwater photography. Around the same time I bought my first Aqua-Lung tank and regulator from France, so I could actually dive and take pictures underwater without having to hold my breath or be tethered to the crude diving helmet we used in those early days. SF: I saw a picture of you online recently. You were just a teenager, sitting in front of what seemed to be a caravan on a beach on the Red Sea. You were born in 1946, and in this picture you couldn’t have been more than 19. So that would put you diving the Red Sea in about 1965. That had to be a magical time in your life. Tell me how that came to be. KA: Inspired by Hans Hass and his 1952 film Under the Red Sea, I wanted an underwater adventure of my own in the Red Sea. For me, that meant hitchhiking from Zurich to Greece with one of my friends. We hopped a freighter that got us to Haifa, and from there we made our way to Eilat, Israel. We met some Israeli navy divers who let us stay in that caravan you saw in the photo. We were there for eight months, diving every day. It was a glorious time to see the Red Sea; the water was so clear, and the reefs were magic. There was lots of soft coral and amazing tropical fish — many sharks, too! This was the height of adventure for a couple of kids. I had my cameras — the Calypso PHOT and my Rolleimarin with the flash bulbs — but we had no money. I could play the drums, so I got jobs at night playing in a jazz band at the End of the World nightclub in Eilat. My friend was hired to yodel at weddings. That was quite a sight: a Swiss guy yodeling at an Israeli wedding. But somehow we managed to scrape together enough to stay. There were very few tourists there at the time. In eight months we saw maybe Amsler dives in 1963 in Le Drammont, South of France, with the Calypso PHOT, which was made by La Spirotechnique. It was the first amphibious camera with a flash bulb attachment. Opposite: Coral grouper in the Red Sea, Ras Mohammad, Egypt, 1993 (Nikonos RS) 100 tourists, and of those only 25 were divers. We had those reefs totally to ourselves — in places where the fish and turtles had never seen a diver before. SF: I’m surprised that having been trained as a commercial photographer you didn’t want to move to London and be a fashion photographer like David Hemmings in the 1966 film Blow-Up. At that time there had to be a lot of work in many different fields for a skilled photographer with a portfolio from art school. KA: I must admit there are parts of the Blow-Up lifestyle that would have appealed to me at that point in my life, but I remember very vividly standing on a beach in the Red Sea and having an epiphany. I knew for damn sure this was what I wanted to do with my life: underwater photography. I didn’t want to end up in a studio somewhere. The ocean would be my studio. Yet it wasn’t that easy to make it happen. I was derailed for a short time to do my military service in the special forces of the Swiss Army. Then I started doing the travel circuit, showing the 16mm underwater films I’d shot to local dive clubs. I also began to get some of my underwater photos published in magazines. There weren’t any dive magazines in Europe at this time. You had Skin Diver in the USA, but my first published photos were in larger circulation, general-interest magazines, and their readers hadn’t really seen the underwater world before. My photos were a revelation to many who didn’t know such beauty and color existed beneath the sea. My plan was to have one foot in the dive industry and one foot in photography. I became a dive instructor so I could easily get a job and support myself in places I might want to dive and take pictures. In 1968 I met a pretty American girl who was on holiday in Switzerland and who also had a job as ALERTDIVER.COM | 95

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