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The Magic Formula
Date:06/02/02  By Stan Waterman
Filmmaker, StanWaterman.com

I had a call a few days ago from a young man whose family I know. I think I knew why he was calling even before he started to speak. Either he was going to travel to Australia and wanted introductions or he was in a work-a-day job, thought what I was doing was wonderfully adventurous and hoped to find a formula for entering the world of adventure. It was the latter. I sighed, glanced at the pile on my desk, an accumulation of work from having been away for a week in the Caribbean. Two days hence I would leave for Australia and my annual white shark caper. Whether or not his family were old friends I would take the time - at least some time - to talk with him. I always have. Do you know why? Because over the bridge of years I remember as if it was yesterday dreaming of far horizons. I remember making a tent of my bedding after lights out and reading with the light of my two-cell flashlight Col. John Craig's "Adventure Is My Business". When I was a nipper and tucked in to the third floor room of the big house I grew up in I remember listening to the sound of cars going by and thinking they must be engaged in travel to some sort of adventure. And much later, when I was old enough to do something other than dream, it was "Diving To Adventure" by Hans Hass and the first accounts of Cousteau's experiences that were the catalysts for my breaking out of the mould, taking a chance.


...all the grub stake in the world isn't worth a piss hole in the snow if you don't love what you are doing, stay with it and have at least a modicum of creativity.

In Conrad's "Lord Jim" the philosopher, Stein, listens to Jim's lament about being afraid to take a chance, to risk disaster. He replies: "The way is, to the destructive element submit yourself; and by the exertion of your hands and your feet in the water make the deep deep sea hold you up".

I remember these times in my early days, when I was going the path of least resistance and needed the proverbial goose to get going. So I listened with empathy and talked with the young man without indulging in sanctimonious pontificating. It is very easy to evoke inspiring quotations and leave a desperate seeker impressed by your erudition and empty of any practical thoughts at all. In "The Wind In The Willows" Kenneth Graham gave these words to the debonair, foot-loose Sea-Faring Rat, who was advising his land-bound, stuffy cousin, the Water Rat, who wanted to escape from his dull life by the riverside: "'Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you're out of the old life and into the new". Sounds splendid, doesn't it? It has the siren song of a recruiting poster. Even the most unregenerate romantic will find there was no practical substance to it the next morning. So I try to talk straight with some practical thoughts and avoid cutting dead the hopeful.

How do you get started? That is the question that usually starts the ball rolling after a few preliminaries to the effect that the aspirant has recently become certified, is keen on photography and would be willing to sail two years before the mast with me on my next trip if I needed an assistant. Some young people jump into adventure feet first. It may work while they are young and restless. Deck hands who will work for little or nothing hang around marinas like blow flies around a dog's turd. In "The Call of the Running Tide", John Masefield wrote, "t'is a wild call and a strong call that cannot be denied". Young people who are hard-drawn to diving also find jobs with dive shops and dive resorts. On the boats, and in the dive world that I travel I see their new faces. When I may return some months later they are gone, moved on. For most it is a transient life, short-term; but there is an element of real adventure very quickly gained. Some make a good life of it. I know several in the Aggressor Fleet who started as dive masters on the boats and worked their way up to captain by studying for their master's certificates. And some start their own dive shops and have enough entrepreneurial spirit to prosper

My own evolution from farmer to what I do today was not exactly routine. I had an economic buffer. An inheritance from my father had left me with the means to make a choice. I have never lost sight of that wonderful privilege nor taken it for granted. A liberal arts education had left me with no really marketable skills. Out of college I might otherwise have dropped into the mass of unemployed labor. Instead I became a farmer on the coast of Maine, where we had a summer home. If you watched the Discovery Channel show, The Man Who Loves Sharks, you will know that I developed and farmed blueberry land, acquired possibly the first Aqua Lung in the State of Maine, was much inspired by Hans Hass and Jacques Cousteau (in that order) and decided to take a chance on earning my bread in the pursuit of adventure in the sea. I built a boat especially for diving, took it to the Bahamas and set up shop. It was what Robert Frost called, "The Road Less Travelled By. And that" - he went on to finish his poem - "is what made all the difference". That is one way to get started. I don't knock it. But all the grub stake in the world isn't worth a piss hole in the snow if you don't love what you are doing, stay with it and have at least a modicum of creativity. I like using an example of other similar experiences by friends of mine who had some inherited help. David Doubilet, one of the finest underwater still photographers in the world, underwrote his first work in the field until he gradually gained recognition, was taken on by National Geographic magazine as a contract photographer and has had more of his own pictures on the cover of National Geographic than any of their staff. He also became a fine writer and in time did both text and pictures for as many as two articles in one issue.

Marjorie Bank, another friend, had means of her own to indulge a hobby. She dove all over the world, often arranging her own charters. At the same time she practiced and studied 35mm underwater still photography, becoming so skilled and creative that her pictures were published with increasing frequency. She forced herself to overcome a painful shyness and in time became a much sought-after speaker at film festivals and a scheduled seminar leader. She now regularly leads dive tours and has become a force in promoting conservation practices and attitudes by divers. This year she will receive the NAUI Environmental Enrichment Award. (Since this article was written Marjorie had a fatal heart attack, a great loss to all of us who appreciated and respected her and esteemed her friendship).

Perhaps my favorite and most effective examples of people who have achieved the state of adventure and success for which my eager friend sought a formula come from the ranks of those who started from scratch with no economic aid. The need to just plain survive, to keep a roof over your head, feed yourself and get on with the process of daily life can so sap and dissipated the energies of a person that ambition and enterprise give way to basic survival. Ron Taylor, the world-famous Australian underwater cinematographer, became a world champion spearfisherman while he earned his daily bread working in a photoengraving shop. Some years back, when he and his wife, Val, and I were driving along the Queensland Coast, he became reflective. Recalling the early days he said: "The other blokes spent their money on girls and cars and beer. I spent my money on cameras and lenses". He and Val both worked for years at their ordinary trades until Ron's spare time photography developed enough currency in a growing market for underwater stories to enable him to work full time at what he loved doing. Even then, he and Val knew lean times, living on beaches and working out of their 16' aluminum skiff, the famous "Tinny". Not until they were in their late thirties did they achieve world-wide recognition.

Al Giddings was a telephone lineman and an ardent spearfisherman, as were so many of the California high schoolers living by the Pacific coast. He saved enough money to start a dive shop in San Francisco with a partner. In time he machined his own camera housings, became expert with 16mm cine and 35mm still photography, and was ready for the challenge when he was tapped by Peter Guber, director of "The Deep" to both direct and shoot the underwater sequences. From there he went on to major underwater series for the networks.

Howard Hall, possibly the finest underwater documentary cinematographer in the world today, started in that womb of famous divers, Chuck Nicklin's Diving Locker in San Diego. Chuck, himself, Howard Hall, Marty Snyderman, Bob Cranston and Chuck's son, Flip Nicklin, all worked their way up through dive shop apprenticeships to affluence in the underwater photographic world. From safety man on the Coral Sea location for "The Deep", and a contract to organize a blue shark sequence for a film I was shooting for Survival Anglia television, Howard grub staked his first under-water 16mm system. I am fond of saying about Howard that he is an example of what Wordsworth wrote, "The child is father of the man". On his first shoot with me his instinct with the camera and easy rapport with the marine animals enabled him to outshoot me, hands down. For many years he filmed for minor productions with parsimonious budgets for little more than expenses. He grew as television's capacity for underwater material grew, shooting for ABC's "American Sportsman" shows and for the ageless series, "Wild Kingdom", sharpening his skill and his knowledge of marine ecosystems, year by year, until he landed a contract to produce an hour for " Nature" on the marine environment of the California coast. Three years in the making, with Howard putting more patience, and unflagging energy into it than the budget could possibly compensate, resulted in "Seasons Of the Sea". It won the Wild Screen Award. This most coveted and highly esteemed award in the documentary field is presented each year in England. It recognizes the finest animal behavior documentaries of the year. It is usually won by the BBC or Survival Anglia and the likes of Richard Attenborough. "Seasons of the Sea" was the first American entry to win this most coveted of all prizes in documentary film making. Howard went on to two more productions for "Nature" and is presently filming for the IMAX productions. He has reached the top and will probably stay there for years. The road to that pinnacle was characterized by thousands of hours of experience, plenty of disasters, the patience and determination to rise again and work with the sea and a willingness in the early days to work for almost nothing as long as the job got him into the sea with his cameras.

I suggest to aspirants for a photographic career in the sea that they hang on to their jobs, join a dive club and start diving with all the free time, weekends and holidays, that they may have. In general dive clubs provide an opportunity for more diving at a lower cost for group activity. Take up photography as a hobby. Most divers do. That's the way to start. The acquisition of an underwater 35mm camera with housing or a consumer level digital video system - and used equipment is always up for sale - does not represent a major investment today. The recreation and the hobby are the start. That is the base on which any one may grow. There are excellent photography courses that combine with holiday dive trips. That is a way for a working person to sharpen their skills and make a diving holiday a constructive experience. Among the best of the courses today are offered by Jim Church, Chris Newbert, Cathy Church and Marty Snyderman.

The likelihood of a hobby evolving into a vocation, as it did years ago for Ron and Val Taylor, depends entirely on the energy, the will and more than anything on the enterprise of the aspirant. On the road to adventure the young person is apt to discover that recreational diving and photography is a most satisfying adventure in itself. Perhaps the dull job at the bank or the insurance office or the countless pedestrian businesses that make the market place hum can generate enough revenue to dive the world's oceans year by year. Those are the people I meet and work with. They all have a sense of adventure and in varying measure make their lives work to achieve that end. The young person who loves tennis may decide that being a tennis pro for a career is a splendid way of making an avocation a vocation. Another may be mad for skiing and go the same route. One ends up not long after tossing tennis balls to spoiled, petulant youngsters at a country club. The other, too many years later, may still be freezing his or her buns off on a ski slope, instructing a class in snow plows. The joy of play and competition can be diminished and finally killed by unrelenting commercial exposure. Dive masters at resorts, dive shops and on dive boats are notoriously transient. I need not labor the point. I did work it out, stuck with it and found that the sea replenished my sense of adventure and, year by year, sustained my pleasure in working with the sea. Perhaps it is the infinite variable in diving the many parts of the world's oceans and the satisfaction of sharing my experiences with others in the films that I do. In thinking about where I am and what I do and where I stand in the vale of years, I so often find myself returning to the words of Tennyson in his poem, "Ulysses". With the voice of that Homeric sea fairer and wanderer he spoke: "For all experience is an arch where through shines that undiscovered country whose margin fades forever and forever as I move. How dull it is to pause, to rust unburnished, not to shine in use, as though to breathe were life."

Arnlee Bradford, in his book, "Ulysses Found", traces the course of the "Odyssey" home to Ithica and the patient Penelope and then conjectures on the days beyond for that classic sea fairer and his men. He wrote: "I do not think he was content. One night they slid the black ship down into the sea and unloosed the mooring rope from the pierced stone. They turned the eyes of the ship to the west and sitting all in order, they smote the gray sea water"

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