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Fotosub 87 - CMAS World Championships

by Peter Rowlands

Reproduced from in focus 23 (August 1987)

Having had a gap of nearly 8 years since the First World Championships of Underwater Photograph - Fotosub'87 came as a pleasant piece of news for such events provide a rare opportunity to mingle with some of the world's best and to see how they operate and the results they produce.

Fourteen countries were represented - Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, France, Holland, Ireland, Portugal, America. Yugoslavia, Hong Kong, Norway and Belgium. An obviously strong European bias but nevertheless a good cross-section of talent.

Overseen by CMAS, Fotosub'87 was organised by Fedas, the Spanish Diving Organisation, and they chose the waters around Cadaques for the venue of the championships. Cadaques is a picturesque small town on the Mediterranean coast with its prominent church overlooking the red tile roofs of the traditional Spanish homes, It is hard to imagine that just a few kilometres to the south there is candy floss, Watneys Red Barrel and Package Paradises. Protected by hills on all sides, Cadaques really is a picture.

With June being a comparatively quiet month, the locals were pleased to see boxes and boxes of camera equipment arriving from all directions. The majority of the assembled throng were brought in and ferried around by bus and eventually distributed into a couple of hotels. The rest made their own way there starting to arrive two or three days before the event to check out the water and the conditions.

A steady wind kept die sea ruffled most of the time and the visibility underwater was no more than UK south coast on a good day i.e. around 40 foot but first impressions were of mild surprise at the seemingly barren underwater scenery which has unusually colourful and fascinating marine life. Octopus were seen on most dives as were some perfect tompot blennies, a host of fan worms, colourful coral at depth and so on. No shoals of fish or large grouper though which is not surprising as spearfishing is still a highly regarded and practiced sport.

Getting 26 underwater photographers and their assistants into one place on time proved a difficult task and most timings ran about an hour late but after a while you got used to that because it was so conistent. Changes of plan were not bellowed on a megaphone but, miraculuosly, were passed by word of mouth from one group to another. This gave a strange feel to the event until the main meeting when the entrants were firmly reminded of the reason they were there. This first get together was to explain the rules and air any problems.

Each entrant is given two rolls of 36 exposure film either 100 or 200 asa. They have two days diving from a Zodiac inflatable powered by Evinrude outboards. Two tanks of air are allowed each day but if there is a model and an assistant, they were allowed a bottle each per day. The entrants must all dive within a certain zone representing about two miles of coastline. Each day consisted of 4 hours photography from about 9arn to I pm. The resulting films would be driven to Barcelona about 2 hours south for processing. The entrants then have to choose 5 slides to enter as a portfolio of work. No more guidelines that that were given. No categories whatsoever.

With such a brief, the entrants were all wondering just which type of shots would win the day. Should they dress up models for brightness, keep shots totally natural or import man made props to catch the eye. The dilema was evident especially as the previous British winning team had relied so heavily on artificial props and ideas and had incurred the displeasure of a wide and influential range of underwater photographers. Had their memories faded? Had underwater photographic ideas passed that point Iong ago or is that still the required formula?

It was an impressive sight seeing about 30 inflatables up on the beach with a gaggle of underwater photographers preparing themselves. Video cameras with sound crews appeared to give an added importance and several press photographers from the continent were interviewing entrants and shooting stills. A quick walk around the boats revealed that the majority were using cameras in housings rather than a Nikonos. Their reasons being that composition and focus are vital to them and they must be able to control both accurately. Lenses varied little 100 mm macro surfaced but that was rare. Flashguns from all manufacturers were in evidence as well as several DIY housings.

The atmosphere was very like the early days of BSoUP when the meetings were less about lectures and more about talking with others, exchanging techniques and encouraging innovation. No cloak and dagger pointless deviousness here thank you. Here's a group of underwater photographers who are confident enough to explain their techniques rather than hold back the hints in fear of highly unlikely comercial pirating. The spirit was good and the humour flowed from nationality to nationality despite our seperate languages.

The first day saw a blustery wind produce a lumpy chop which made the journey in the inflatables a bouncy affair. Having had the previous day to recce the area, most entrants went to their chosen spots and worked away. The sun hardly ever broke through. Nearly all the photographers would be praying for the sun to give them that added sparkle which would lift their portfolio above the rest. They had to decide how many frames to shoot. Too many and the conditions could be perfect tommorrow, too few and the weather may worsen. Its a dilema with the clock ticking away. 4 hours sounds a lot but you would be in the water at least three of those four trying to achieve at least 5 different and original shots. Some would rely on a marine animal to perform in which case luck could give you the shots in 10 seconds or maybe10 minutes. Others would have to arrange props and liase with models while some would limit their time further still by deciding to go deeper for special marine growths.

The feeling at the end of the first day was generally one of discontent. No one felt confident enough to say they had had a successful day. They had all hoped for much better.

The second day dawned much calmer with a thin cloud layer which hovered infuriatingly. The calmer sea and warmer temperatures were lifting the entrants' hopes for a better day. Once again, they returned to their locations to take their last opportunity to capture their winners. Some decided to reshoot their shots from yesterday and so risk running out of both time and film while others settled for what they had and went onto images new.

By I p.m. they were all back with broader faces holding back happy smiles for the animals had performed, the sun had come out just right and the visibility was a little better

The atmosphere was one of relieved excitement. The hard work was over with the results to look forward to. Once the films had been returned and the 5 slides marked for submission, there was little else to do but relax and soak in the atmosphere and the red wine.

The results were announced after a grand dinner at an impressive local hotel which is located in an idyllic location a few miles out of town. The team winners were revealed as Italy with Spain second and Great Britain third. Italy had shot an entry which balanced artificial props with natural and man and animal. They used their ideas to create a feeling of clearer water and so achieve more impact.

In the individual category, Kurt Amsler of Switzerland was a clear winner with a professional entry combining models, props and marine life, Italy's Pierfranco Dilenge was second and Peter Scoones was third.

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