National Geographic : 2012 Jan
VISIONS | PHOTO JOURNAL • Near Cancún, Mexico, the coral-spiked statue "Man on Fire" symbolizes our lack of environmental awareness. Jason deCaires Taylor Undersea Icons Submerged in transparent ocean waters, my life-size statues act as tropical reefs. At first they look like ruins from an ancient civilization. But look closely. They're based on real people performing contemporary acts, cast from coral-friendly, pH-neutral marine concrete. Why do I create them? To show what a sustainable, symbiotic relationship with nature might look like. Five years ago in Grenada, West Indies, my training in sculpture, diving, set design, and photography converged. I realized that underwater statues might be an artistic way to help revive one bay's ecosystem. After the government agreed, the scale and my ambition grew. I've since sunk hundreds of works and shot the results. First I sketch a statue, then research how best to construct, transport, and install it using cranes and a crew. Once it's finally in place, up to six months later, I get to photograph it---that's the fun part. But it's also a challenge. Salt water alters shapes; weather and light are fickle. So I have to really focus on the opportunity at hand. Snorkelers, scuba divers, and tourists in glass-bottom boats all see my work now. I hope they enjoy it but also appreciate where it's located---at a vital intersection of art, science, and the environment. THE PHOTOGRAPHER Jason deCaires Taylor is based in Mexico. See more of his work at underwatersculpture.com.