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CMAS World Championship of Underwater Photography 1992

by Linda Pitkin

Reproduced from in focus 46. (Dec. 1992)

The throng pressed nearer to the Cubana check-in desk at Orly, Paris only to be told that the flight was overbooked by 20% and the plane was now full! Visions of Cuba were fading fast for our party of 9 French and English an route to the World Underwater Photography Championships, but luckily we had Lionel with us to save the day. Lionel Pozzoli, one of France's top underwater photographers and chief organiser of this event, got us all not only onto the plane but upgraded to first class. Things seemed to work that way throughout our brief stay in Cuba: chaos until the last moment and then everything falls into place just in time.

Photo montage: Debbie Perrin

After an overnight stop in Havana our arrival at the Isla de la Juventud, otherwise known as the Isle of Youth or Isle of Pines, was a chance to meet up with many old friends that I have dived with and know from other events. Sixteen countries were represented, from Europe and such far flung places as New Zealand, Brazil, South Korea, who hope to host the next World Championships, and the U.S.A. It was interesting to see the differences in teams from one country to another.

Each team could consist of 2 photographers, 2 models and a team captain as well as other non-competing divers and Italy and Germany for instance both had large teams, I was rather conscious of the small size of the British team, limited to just myself and assistant Debbie Perrin, due to a mix-up in communication and failure to find financial sponsorship. Such feelings were soon overcome by the friendliness of everyone towards us though. Inevitably there are elements of rivalry in an event of this nature but my own experience is that national boundaries seem to dissolve into an international club of underwater photographers.

The diving was well organised with ample space on the hard boats even though countries shared these; we shared our boat with the Swiss and Norwegians. Our day of diving prior to the two days of competition commenced with a minor panic when we discovered that Debbie's regulator didn't fit the cylinders and all the regulators available for hire had already gone. At the last minute, when the crew were starting to become restless, a suitable fitting was found, Debbie's second stage dismantled and reassembled, and we set off. The island is off the Caribbean coast of Cuba and the reefs are similar to those of the nearby Cayman Is., though not so rich. The water was warm but the visibility was not at its best and the fish were scattered rather than in tight shoals; even so the opportunities for photography were immense as was evident in the range of shots produced, particularly the winners.

As the first day of the competition dawned we eagerly drew back the curtains to be greeted with grey skies and rain. Hadn't we left that behind in London- Sunshine broke through after breakfast though and transformed the scene. Four rolls of Fujichrome Velvia, or a mixture of Velvia (rated at about 40 ASA) and Fujichrome 100, were supplied to each competitor.

We were allowed two dives per day and 1 hour for each dive; air was no problem as the cylinders were enormous, at least for myself and even more so Debbie who is a petite 5ft tall. I worked hard underwater, grateful for Debbie's able assistance, but the I hours allotted which had seemed so generous went by in about five minutes except that my gauges told me otherwise.

The construction and painting of the stage for the presentations had provided entertainment for us as we sipped our drinks by the hotel pool on our first day. Now, on the evening before the awards ceremony only one thing was missing, a screen for the slideshow. A sheet hung up, rippling limply in the breeze, was greeted with less than enthusiasm by the judges who demanded something more professional. Luckily in Cuba, where nothing can be done until the last minute, absolutely anything can be accomplished at a moment's notice and a smooth white-painted wooden screen was put together to do justice to the slides.

The title of World Champion of Underwater Photography went to Franco Banfi of Switzerland, well known for his photographic successes, as the individual winner and to Italy for the winning team. Both awards were well deserved for their inventive and eye- catching photographs.

I didn't win any awards on this occasion but I was very glad to have taken part in such a well-organised and enjoyable event. A great experience, thanks to everyone present: the photographers and their teams; the judges, including Christian Ide of C.M.A. S., and Michael Portelly, who achieved meteoric success in past competitions before taking up an even more challenging role as film maker of underwater adverts, and the Cuban Federation who hosted the event and covered the photographers' on site expenses. Particular congratulations and thanks are due to the organisers led by Lionel Pozzoli, who put in so much hard work to make the Championships run smoothly.

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