National Geographic : 1955 Apr
Photographing the Sea's Dark Underworld Ocean Depths Surrender Their Secrets to Cameras Towed on Sleds, Dangled on Cables, and Borne by the Bathyscaphe 523 By H\AROLD E. ED(IGERTON DOWN to the uttermost depths of the sea plunged the Nautilus. The French man, Captain Nemo's unwilling but ever-astonished prisoner, gazed through the porthole and exclaimed: "Look, Captain, look at these magnificent rocks, these uninhabited grottoes, these lowest receptacles of the globe, where life is no longer possible! What unknown sights are here! Why should we be unable to preserve a re membrance of them?" "Would you like to carry away more than the remembrance?" said Captain Nemo. "What do you mean by those words?" "I mean to say that nothing is easier than to take a photographic view of this submarine region." Nothing easier? Well, that was Jules Verne speaking in his fabulous Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The year was 1869, and scientific miracles (on paper, at least) seemed not too difficult to perform. Deeper Into the Unknown Unfortunately, in the succeeding years, we humdrum technicians operating in the field of reality, not fiction, have found it somewhat less simple to set up our studios in the great depths and take the sea floor's portrait. Men have dived to the limit of endurance with diving suit and Aqualung; they have lowered solitary cameras to 20,400 feet and dangled observers in spheres to 4,500; French Navy men have descended to 13,287 feet in the new bathyscaphe, the dirigible of the sea (page 524). But coverage of even these strata has been no more than a pinprick upon so vast a canvas. A young man, impatient with our progress, once said to me: "Let's grant that someday you'll design a camera which won't collapse under the pressure of extreme depths. Let's grant, further, that you find a way to lower it safely into position and start shooting. What do you expect to find? Giant squid? Min erals? Buried cities? Sea serpents?" I could only reply: "If I knew what we'd find, I wouldn't bother to find it." It was this curiosity (and the generous aid and encouragement of the National Geo graphic Society) that led me in the summer of 1954 to join forces again with Capt. Jacques-Yves Cousteau of the Calypso and Lt. Comdr. Georges S. Houot of the deep diving bathyscaphe F. X. R. S. 3.* Destination: the Mediterranean's Floor I had been of service to these officers in previous years, adapting to their marine re quirements the high-powered electronic flash equipment I had developed for use on land. I designed watertight cameras with electronic flash lamps able to resist the great pressure of the depths, which assisted in the analysis of the "deep scattering layer"--the baffling sound-reflecting stratum that lies beneath the ocean's surface (page 528). This time I had two major objectives: to perfect photography from the bathyscaphe, testing our new cameras and flashes; and to cruise on Calypso between Tunisia and Sicily with a party of French marine scientists, ex perimenting with cameras and lights dangled from a cable. Accompanied, then, by my son Bill and half a ton of photographic equipment, I took ship from New York on July 1. Nine days later we faced our first major * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Two and a Half Miles Down," by Lt. Comdr. Georges S. Houot, July, 1954; and, by Capt. Jacques Yves Cousteau, "To the Depths of the Sea by Bathy scaphe," July, 1954; "Fish Men Discover a 2,200 year-old Greek Ship," January, 1954; and "Fish Men Explore a New World Undersea," October, 1952. The Author Dr. Edgerton, Professor of Electrical Measurements at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is co inventor of the high-speed electronic flash lamp, which is capable of brighter-than-sun exposures as brief as a millionth of a second. Widely used in science and industry, it enables the camera to "see the unseen," stopping a hummingbird's whirring wings or freezing the motion of high-speed machinery. In 1953 I)r. Edgerton was awarded the National Geographic So ciety's Burr Prize for extraordinary contributions to science in cooperation with The Society. When Dr. Edgerton turned his brilliant mind to problems of deep-undersea photography, with National Geographic Society support, The Society's Research Committee coordinated his work with that of Captain Cousteau, distinguished leader of the National Geo graphic Society Calypso Oceanographic Expeditions.