HALL, David




Author Tags: Environment, Photography

David Hall’s Beneath Cold Seas: The Underwater Wilderness of the Pacific Northwest (Greystone Books, in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation), was selected as the 2012 winner of the National Outdoor Book Award for Design and Artistic Merit.

As stated in the introduction to Beneath Cold Seas (Greystone $45), underwater photographer David Hall combines the inquiring and exacting eye of a scientist with the soul and vision of an artist to produce uniquely beautiful underwater images that educate as much as they inspire.

It’s not just hype. Hall’s astonishing imagery of underwater life reveals the West Coast as never seen before. All photos were taken in British Columbian waters, and nearly all had to be taken within a few feet of their subjects.
Hall’s technical prowess in lighting the underwater wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, making sea life appear magical, both above and below the water—sometimes simultaneously—is not discussed in the text, and the physical stamina required for

Such work is glossed over. The emphasis for Beneath Cold Seas has been placed on the other-worldliness of the photos, with minimal commentary, and sparse captions. It is a visual plunge, a dive into exotica.

Here the intrepid underwater explorer explains his obsession with miniature creatures called the hooded nudibranch, or Melibe leonine, and he also recalls an encounter with the largest species of octopus in the deep.

“Imagine a bull kelp forest in which the plants are completely covered with ghostlike animals expanding and contracting rhythmically, and you will have some idea of what I witnessed. It was like a scene from a science fiction movie, and I knew that I had to find some way to capture it on film.

“Fifteen years later I am still trying.

“Why is it so difficult? For one thing, conveying a sense of movement in a still photograph can be like trying to convey the rhythm of a tango with a single musical note. For another, how can I effectively illuminate these six-inch animals when most of the light emitted by my flash units passes right through their transparent bodies?

“If you want to photograph hooded nudibranchs in the Pacific Northwest, timing is critical. In British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Strait, Melibe first appear on the kelp in early to mid-September. They grow rapidly, reaching full size and maximum population density within two weeks; yet less than two weeks later they have all but disappeared.

“Unfortunately, when Melibe make their brief appearance, bull kelp, the dominant marine plant in the area, is usually dying back and not very photogenic. Perhaps one year in five or ten the kelp survives in relatively good shape until the nudibranchs have arrived in large numbers. At this time it becomes possible to capture images that are both unique and spectacular.

“The transparent and rhythmically contracting Melibe may look like jellyfish, but this resemblance is deceiving. Jellyfish are cnidarians — stinging animals related to sea anemones and corals — whereas Melibe, a kind of snail with no shell, are mollusks. Melibe trap plankton within an expansile “oral hood,” whereas jellyfish use stinging cells in their tentacles to immobilize and capture their prey. Like Melibe, jellyfish contract rhythmically and are largely transparent, making them difficult to photograph.

“Many wonderful jellyfish are found in these cold waters, but one in particular stands out. Once, while photographing rockfish in the kelp bed at Hunt Rock in Queen Charlotte Strait, I became aware of something very large drifting toward me, swept along by the current. It was a huge lion’s mane jellyfish nearly three feet in diameter, with ten-to fifteen-foot tentacles trailing behind it. Cyanea capillata is the largest jellyfish in the world, and this individual was by far the largest I had ever seen.

“I approached the massive animal cautiously. Cyanea possesses an especially powerful sting, and the neoprene hood and dive mask I wore left much of my face unprotected. The jelly’s many long, transparent tentacles were difficult to keep track of as I approached with one eye glued to the viewfinder of my camera.

“I made dozens of photographs of the magnificent animal. The changing pattern of light filtering through the choppy surface and the rhythmic contractions of the jellyfish meant that no two photographs would look the same. None of them would truly convey the grace and beauty of a living jellyfish, but I was determined to try.” 978-1-55365-870-2

BOOKS:

Beneath Cold Seas: The Underwater Wilderness of the Pacific Northwest (Greystone Books, in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation 2011; paperback Greystone, 2015) 978-1-55365-870-2, $45.00 hc

[BCBW 2015]

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Clifford Sifton. Volume One: The Young Napoleon, 1861-1900