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Trofeo di Caccia Fotografica , Sicily, 1993

by Greg Cassar

Reproduced from in focus 50 (January 1994)

The first Trofeo di Caccia Fotografica Subacques was held at the very pleasant Sicilian village of Cefalu, some 60 miles from Palermo. Competitors for this event came from France, Holland, Ireland, Malta, Italy and the U.K., invited countries being represented by teams of two underwater photographers, the Italians entering three teams.

The competition was held on the Saturday before Christmas and was sponsored by the Italian equivalent of the British Society of Underwater Photographers. The organisers picked up all the expenses for the competitors including flights, accommodation, food, diving equipment and film. Les Kemp and Greg Cassar had been invited to participate for the U.K. following their success in Malta.

The idea of the event was that each competitor would photograph as many different species of fish as possible. The rules were enumerated on the Friday evening and, being complicated, took some time. Each competitor would be issued with a roll of 36 exposure film and, as it was a team event, the best 36 shots of the two rolls per team could be entered for judging.

All pictures submitted had to be correctly exposed and the subject had to conform to a minimum size within the frame. Fish had to be framed facing the lens. Mid-water fish had to be completely framed, any part of the fish not in the frame disqualified that shot and if submitted forjudging would lose points.

There were three categories of entry, each with a different degree of difficulty and a different number of points. Bottom-dwelling fish, such as scorpion fish, for example scored only one point, because of the ease with which they could be framed. Faster-moving mid-water fish scored the most points for obvious reasons. Each species of fish could only be submitted once, although males and females of the same species were allowed. Once the selections had been made each team had to complete a form listing the Latin name of each fish.

Our hectic weekend began at 4.30 a.m. on Friday morning when Les Kemp and I set off on a flight to Palermo to meet up with the other competitors late that afternoon. On arrival in Palermo, we were all whisked away to our hotel in a variety of cars and vans, most being driven by budding Nigel Mansells. As you might imagine, the vehicles were full to overflowing with gear, and there were quite a few anxious faces each time we braked hard from what appeared to be high speed. On route my driver pointed out a lot of tourist attractions including some small off-shore islands where the Sicilians once imprisoned their women and a few sites of Mafia wrong-doings.

At 7.00 a.m. on the Saturday morning the eight teams gathered and with the customary layback approach of our Italian hosts we set off for the dive site at 9.00 a.m. On arrival, anxious to get a jump on the rest of the competitors, Les and I started getting cameras and gear ready and were first to be ready. This turned out to be a bad move as, due to a logistical error, the Irish team had been left without cylinders or weight belts and not until this problem had been taken care of could we make a start. Three hours came and went and in the heat Les and I began to wilt. At last, however, we were given the start signal.

The area chosen for the competition was large and consequently competitors did not get in one another's way, but the visibility was stiffed up and this made the game even more difficult. As Les and I both use Nikons in Subal housings we had decided on a strategy to divide our efforts to greater effect. Les would use a 60 mm Macro lens and concentrate on those species which allowed him to approach within quite close range. I would use a Sigma 90 mm lens and concentrate on the faster-moving mid-water subjects. As in any competition problems occurred which had to be overcome. For example, due to a lack of weights both Les and I had to stuff a number of rocks into our stab jackets to maintain negative buoyancy.

The cameras functioned well, although I had no manual focusing ability with the Sigma 90 min lens. This became a real problem later in the day, when the light began to fail. The autofocus began to hunt, failing to lock onto my target. Very frustrating when speed is a vital factor.

After the competition ended all teams returned to the hotel to await the return of their processed films. While we waited the organisers held a gala meal, which was very pleasant and a number of audio-visuals were shown. These included one by a local photographer about the town of Cefalu. Another was by Frank Schneider, a member of the judging panel and a sports journalist from Germany, who showed a selection of slides from around the world. Les Kemp was to have presented his audio-visual 'Eye Witness', but, owing to insurmountable technical difficulties with the hardware supplied by the organisers, this had to be cancelled.

At about midnight we were all given our processed films and rushed to various light boxes and began the sifting process. At first glance we thought we had done quite well. Our species tally appeared to be 29 and they seemed technically correct. After initial scrutiny by an adjudicator the number dropped to 19. Fish which we thought were different were in fact the same species. Apparently some species change slightly after they mate! We agonised further and ended up with a final tally of 14 shots that we hoped would score well. Sadly the Irish team of Pat McCoole and Billy Nott had had equipment problems and could only make a selection from one roll of film.

Looking around the room, we could see that the Italians and Maltese had done quite well, but, as they conceded, this was their 'back-yard' and knew where to look.

Finally at around 3.00 a.m. we finished the selection process and adjourned to our rooms. The panel of judges would score the event early on Sunday morning, with the results being announced at 10.30 a.m.

The results were given in reverse order. Great, we were not last, that honour went to the Irish team. Seventh were the Dutch, then in sixth the U.K. The French team came fourth and the Maltese second. Italy took fifth, third and first places. The winning Italian team had also taken the best picture on the day and one of my pictures, of a Gobbius, had come second. The U.K. team could therefore leave the island with a certain amount of pride.

After the official announcements, we were herded to an area outside where out Italian hosts had organised local TV and press coverage for the awards ceremony. Following this, the organisers insisted on our joining then for a gala lunch. The time at this point was about 1. 15 p.m. and most of us were due to fly back to Palermo, sixty miles away, at 3.25 p.m. As you can imagine the ride to the airport was a hairy one as we finally bade farewell to our generous hosts at 2. 10 p. m. on that sunny Sunday afternoon before Christmas.

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