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The water margin

The sub-aquatic art of David Doubilet

According to his publicity, David Doubilet is 'the world's leading underwater photographer'. Flicking through Water Light Time, a new retrospective of his work, it's hard to imagine there's much meaningful competition. Though the opening photos of sun-bleached corals taken on dry land are dazzling, it soon becomes clear that Doubilet's real home is underwater.

Doubilet's familiarity with the sea is a consequence of the asthma he suffered from as a child. At an early age he discovered that swimming freed him from gasping lungs and, as a result, he eventually became an athlete of almost Olympic standards. This aptitude, combined with a passion for photography, made his career choice seem somehow predestined. Before long, Doubilet found himself on assignments with National Geographic.

Thirty years later, he's still producing intimate portraits of life beneath the waves. Water Light Time presents page after page of mesmerising pictures: scavenging seals, looming sharks, neon fish darting through the ocean, all apparently oblivious to Doubilet's camera. It is only when Doubilet frames both sky and sea in the same shot that you appreciate the difference between the physics acting on the world we all take for granted and those ruling the underwater realm we know next to nothing about.

Water Light Time is published by Phaidon


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