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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 a secretary at the Holiday Inn in Freeport, Grand Bahama. She said I should come visit, and as I had never dived the Bahamas, a few months later I did just that. Coincidentally, a couple of years earlier the Underwater Explorers Society (UNEXSO) had opened up in Freeport with an innovative 18-foot-deep scuba training tank and a fleet of boats for diving their nearby reefs. This was the state-of-the-art in destination diving, and celebrities from all over the world came to train and dive there. Walter Cronkite did a story about it, and glamorous starlets such as Kim Hunter went there to learn scuba. Lloyd Bridges, who l had the pleasure to meet there, traveled there with his sons, Beau and Jeff, so they could learn to dive. I had my portfolio with me, and I showed it to UNEXSO manager Dave Woodward. Few people were shooting serious underwater photos at the time, and Woodward was amazed. He said, “You must dive with us … maybe I can find you a job.” And he did. For the next two years I drove the dive boat when they needed me, and visitors gave tips to underwater photographers when they came around. The famous naturalist and dive guide Ben Rose became my best friend. And the diving was amazing. The shallow reef was solid with elkhorn coral, and we saw sharks and grouper on almost every dive. I learned a lot and made some great connections. While at UNEXSO I entered my first photo competition, in Santa Monica, Calif. I did very well and began to think I should compete in more contests. SF: I read an interview with you written by our colleague Alex Mustard, and he said of your success in European photo competitions, “It is impossible to summarize the multitude of highlights in Kurt’s career here. Suffice to say that he has shot thousands of stories for magazines, written many books and photographed high-profile advertising campaigns. His competition record is also a full house. He won the 2nd CMAS [Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques, or World Underwater Federation] World Championship in 1987, he was named Grand Master at the 1987 Brighton Festival that included the prize of a Rolex watch, his book Maldives won the best book of underwater photographs at the Antibes Festival in 1994, and he has won awards in just about every other competition, including the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year.” Very impressive, Kurt! KA: It is true I won almost every photo contest there was in those days. Contests were very popular in the 1970s and ’80s, typically organized by the Italians or the French and held all over the world. Usually they consisted of a three- to six-day shoot at some dive destination. I’d arrive with a model, shoot a lot and, mostly, win. But it wasn’t about ego gratification; I wanted to have influence, and I needed to be famous for people to 96 | SUMMER 2016

pay attention to what I was saying. By then I had been diving long enough to see changes in the ocean, and I wanted to make people aware of the need for marine conservation. I’ve always believed one-third of my time and one-third of my money should be spent giving back to the sea. My biggest campaign over the years has been to protect sea turtles, and now for 30 years we have been combating the harvesting of turtles for food and souvenirs. I was involved in closing dolphinariums and protecting sharks. More and more I have been fighting for animals on land as well. Recently I have become an ambassador for Sea Shepherd Global. They have power, and with power comes awareness. Together we can do great things to protect marine life. SF: You have been active in commercial and advertising photography in the dive industry. I remember your early product ads for dive computers, which combined studio photo techniques in the underwater environment for product illustration. KA: I met Dick Bonin, the founder of Scubapro, while at UNEXSO, and I used to shoot some of the very early lifestyle photos for their catalogs. I also enjoyed sponsorship from Nikon and Rolex. The composite images you now see coming out of computers, I used to do in real life, in the water. Many of these were big campaigns, paying $2,000 a day, and the shoots could go on for two or three weeks. That was really big money then, and not so bad even now! You and I, we had the good times. We got to be underwater photographers when the scuba equipment became good enough to trust, the cameras and housings were good enough to capture quality photos, the dive infrastructure was maturing, and the reefs were unimaginably beautiful. Ours was the sweet spot in time. When I was talking to topside commercial and editorial photographers at agencies such as Black Star, they always told me it was important to become a photojournalist. I had to be as good at writing as I was at photography, maybe better. This helped me when it came to doing books. I’ve published 14 books — five coffee-table books, five dive guides and assorted underwater photo guides and such. SF: I know you as a photo equipment innovator, and you have a close and visible relationship with Seacam these days. How did you evolve from your Rolleimarin to the digital cameras you use today? KA: When I think back to the various cameras I used over the decades, I note the good reasons I had to move from one to the next. Actually, I am very loyal to my Amsler was the overall winner of the 2nd CMAS World Championship of Underwater Photography, held in Cadaqués, Spain, in 1987. Opposite: School of bannerfish in Rangiroa, French Polynesia, in 1994 (Nikonos RS, 13mm fisheye lens) gear. I have dived with Scubapro equipment for 45 years, and I’ve used only Nikon cameras since 1975. My first self-made housing was pretty easy to move up from. I know what I like in an underwater housing, but I am not a brilliant machinist or housing manufacturer. Even the Calypso PHOT was a huge improvement over the crude housing I began with. But I knew to get the fish portraits I wanted that I needed greater compositional accuracy than cameras of the Nikonos design could provide. I needed the precision of reflex viewing. I will say that throughout my career, however, as long as I was shooting film, the Nikonos and 15mm lens would be with me on most every dive for wide-angle shots. Some of my favorite underwater photos were taken with that unique and venerable optic. As a student I’d play drums in jazz bands to earn enough to satisfy my lust for camera gear. This took me (chronologically) from the Calypso PHOT to the Rollei twin-lens reflex camera in the Rolleimarin housing (coincidentally a Hans Hass design) to a Hasselblad in a Hugyfot housing and then a Bronica 2 ¼ square (also in a Hugyfot) during my medium-format era. In 1975 I headed in a different, more modern direction with 35mm film and a housed Nikon F2 with an action finder. I had the Oceanic Hydro 35 housing and Oceanic 2001 strobes. ALERTDIVER.COM | 97

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