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Algheromar, Sardinia, Italy 1991

International Underwater Photography Award of Marine Biology

by Les Kemp

Reproduced from IN FOCUS 43. January-February 1992


We have all become familiar with international underwater photographic events, either having read about them in diving magazines or having been fortunate enough to have taken part.

Algheromare 91, staged in Sardinia, Italy on 2-6 October was so different to any event I have experienced in the past that I felt that I must put pen to paper. As with most underwater photographic competitions Algheromare 91 was sponsored by the local Tourist Board, on this occasion in association with the Oceanographic Institute of Monaco, CMAS, and the Federation of Italian Pescu Sports Subaqua (FIPS).

A total of nine photographers and their models/assistants were invited to compete, one from each of Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain and six from Italy.

Three weeks prior to the competition, I received the rules and regulations together with further information. The later included a note to the effect that 'the photographer will have to provide .... boatman, bottles, weights and every necessary (item of) equipment for the competition'. Also included was a list of local boat hirer's and their phone numbers. This prompted me to contact the Tourist Board in Alghero where I was assured that boats would be provided by the sponsor and bottles and weights by a local diving operation. As it turned out we ended up hiring these at a cost of nearly E2001

In the meantime I had three weeks not only to prepare but to find a model/assistant and put some ideas into practice. Having dived this part of the Mediterranean previously I knew I would have to go fully prepared and not leave anything to chance.

The rules clearly defined two categories - Ambiance and Biology. Six rolls of film would be provided and we would be required to enter four pictures in each category. At this moment in time I assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that the two categories were open and I prepared accordingly.

We flew Italian Airlines to Alghero via Milan and transferred to the Hotel Faro situated just outside Alghero and overlooking the bay of Porte Conta. Across the bay the stunning coastline of Capo Caccia. Breathtaking high cliffs of limestone famous for their grottos and impressive caverns of stalactites and stalagmites which are accessible by land and sea stretch for 75 miles. Many caverns are linked by a complex network of underwater tunnels and caves from 15 metres down to 30 metres.

During our first day (Wednesday) we were taken diving to Capo Caccia by Marco, Busdraghi who runs a local dive centre and also has a reputation as the best local expert and is much sought after. He spoke good English and we were fortunate to secure his services for the competition.

We dived at Madonnas Cave, marked by a plaque of the Madonna on the cliff wall directly above the cave entrance. At 15 metres the cave entrance is large and has an impressive range of macro life but unfortunately not much else.

That evening there was a meeting of the competitors and the jury to announce the themes of the two categories and ensure that everyone understood the rules. It was then that I discovered that the Ambiance category had to include four shots with a human element as follows I ) a close encounter with any marine life subject 2) using light and shade to illustrate the magic of the caves 3) marine life of the eel grass and 4) colour of gorgonian sea fans (coralligero). Moreover, the Biology category had to include four shots of marine life capturing food!

By now not only was I feeling depressed and suicidal but confused, to say the least. And I was not alone! The jury of five for the Ambiance category and the jury of six for the Biology category were apparently arguing amongst themselves as to exactly what they were looking for! Moreover a appeared that the gorgonian sea fan had to be a brilliant red species with no white polyps which is found at 35 to 70 metres! As for the Biology category requiring shots of marine life feeding, I've known photographers spend a life time trying to obtain this type of material and we had just two days!

As soon as the meeting finished, the competition was deemed open and the competitors could dive at any time, day or night from then until 2.00 p.m. Saturday, with Friday morning as a rest period.

Talking with other competitors over dinner it was obvious that they were not only confused but had interpreted the themes in different ways. Most had decided to do their own thing and hope for the best.


On Day I of the competition (Thursday) we headed out to Capo Caccia in a very rough sea and heavy swell only to find most of the competitors anchored up at Madonnas Cave. This cave became the most dived site during the event as it was the only site with real photographic potential. Despite sea sickness, we managed four dives before returning to the hotel. After a rest we dived again in the early evening and at night off the shore in the eel grass with limited success.

Day 2 started with a compulsory half day rest (to desaturate). Late in the morning our films from Day I were returned to us. I had been experiencing flash gun misfires, so my results came as no surprise and meant trying to repeat a few shots. So at 3.00 p.m. we were off again to Madonnas Cave to try to capture the action!

That evening was our last chance at a night dive, so we needed to make the most of it. Altogether we spent over two hours in the water, only prevented from spending longer in the water by every set of torch batteries we had going flat. I was surprised to find just how much marine life there was amongst the eel grass - octopus, cuttlefish, sea squirts, anemones and a variety of fish. Actually trying to capture them on film whilst feeding was quite another story! Have you ever witnessed how quickly a cuttlefish attacks its prey-


On the final day (Saturday) we only had until 2.00 p.m. to expose any remaining film and we had to get it right! This time we headed out to a completely different set of caves which, because of poor sea conditions, had been until then undiveable. Our boatman Marco informed us that the dive could only be undertaken with an experienced guide like himself as one could easily become lost and once inside there is no going back. This was one of the best sites we dived. The cave had three entrances which eventually join up deep inside the cliff. Looking up from within one could see the sun beaming through the three entrances! Deep inside the cave is a tunnel which worms its way down to 30 metres and opens on the reef face further down the coast.

Unfortunately Sod's Law prevailed - right camera setup but wrong subject. Also, as with any new site, we didn't know where to find more suitable subjects.

On our return to the hotel we handed in our remaining films and after lunch spent the afternoon unwinding and waiting in hope until our films were returned at 6.30 p.m.

On Sunday morning each competitor, witnessed by an official, had to submit his choice of slides for each theme. There was much discussion among the photographers as to which shots they should submit in order to fulfill the requirements of the jury as rolls of glorious colour film were spread out on the light boxes provided.

Stefano Navarrini, who apparently knew the area well and had previously won the competition four times, was tipped to win once again. Whether or not he was successful would be revealed that evening at the gala awards ceremony.
The setting for the ceremony was very impressive with lavishly set tables surrounding the swimming pool, which was half under cover. Across the pool was a stage and a live band. Each table had enough wine to sink a ship. The menu was a mini colour brochure and listed, wait for it, a ten course meal. Believe me, money at these events is no object. Unfortunately it makes our country appear to be living in the dark ages.

After the exhausting dinner, the projection of slides and the presentation of awards got under way. Each portfolio was projected in alphabetical order and a member from each jury discussed the pictures. As this was all in Italian I didn't understand what was said, although our boatman Marco did his best to translate.

Any slide which failed to meet the requirements of the jury was marked down. At first I felt that I didn't have a chance. However, the standard was not particularly high with regards to quality. Unless someone had managed to catch the action I might do well. I had failed in the latter but felt I had a good quality portfolio. In fact the last laugh was on me, as during the projection of my slide of an extreme close up of a brilliant red sea squirt, 'feeding' as I thought, it turned out that I had photographed its anus and not its mouth!

Following the projection of all the slides the winners were announced. Franco Banfi (Switzerland) won the Biology category with a good overall portfolio including an impressive shot of the 8-12 inches high anemone, Cerianthus lloydi, which had captured a shrimp with its long brown tentacles. Settimo Cipriano (Italy) won the Ambiance category. This was, I have to say, a surprise. One of his shots was of a sea horse photographed in an alien habitat. Moreover, his shot of Poseidonia was of his model, no evidence of marine life only mirrors and fancy coloured lights which I had been led to believe was not the type of shot the jury were looking for.

The winner was Sebastian Bauer (Germany), a justly deserved winner with an overall good portfolio. He had photographed a shoal of barracuda, a very rare encounter in these parts. In the caves he had used only the natural shafts of light streaming through the cave entrance to illuminate his model (nice touch). He won the $1,000 prize, although this would not have been enough to replace the diving gear he lost when his car was broken into on the day of his arrival.

Algheromare 91 was a professionally organized event and no expense was spared on the presentation ceremony. I felt it would have been an advantage to know in advance full details of the categories and themes, so that I could have swatted up on the biology of the marine life occurring there before the event. Hiring of boats and equipment could have been a problem. With a little spending money and hire of boats etc the week for two of us cost just over £250. Although not expensive, we hadn't anticipated that competing in an international competition would cost us anything. I have been told, however, that the organizers hope to provide these next year.

Reproduced from IN FOCUS 43. January-February 1992

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