- The Sinking World
Describe the origin of The Sinking World.
In search of a new diving challenge a few years ago, I planned to photograph the Baron Gautsch, a former Austrian passenger ship that sank ninety-nine years ago and lies off the Croatian peninsula of Istria. I would have a good time, relax, and return home. But afterward, I could not stop thinking about the peculiar emptiness and tragic stillness of the photos. Something was missing. I decided then to use ships as a stage and animate the wrecks with scenes photographed in a studio.
Since you can travel to the Red Sea from Austria without crossing half the planet, I next photographed the Thistlegorm, a British freighter that sank during World War II. I took over one hundred pictures, but it did not have that special mystical thing a wreck can have. Aboard the lifeboat that carried me there, I found a magazine and, on its cover, a picture of the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. I knew it would be the ship.
Some of your photographs depict typical life aboard a ship, while others— the ballet class, for example—are less expected. Are your fictional scenes informed by a ship’s history or architecture? Sea life? Or perhaps something more intuitive?
The sea was cold and rough the Easter Day I dove to the Vandenberg. There, at an icy depth of 130 feet, I discovered its majestic, impenetrable silence. Scenes appeared to me: the little girl with her butterfly net, the ballerinas. While working on the production, I came up with more ideas until I had a series of twelve.
The Stavronikita, a former Greek freighter and the setting for my next series, is a symbol of irrepressible avidity. Immediately I thought of the European era of decadence, Rococo, its intoxicating extravagance and vanity. The wreck full of lavish life demanded a fictional world just as abundant.
How important is the exhibition site to the relationship between viewer and photos? Did you consider ecological impacts when installing them on the ship?
The images belonged at the site, and once the idea entered my head, I had to pursue that goal. Joe Weatherby—whose company, Reefmakers, deployed the Vandenberg, the largest ship intentionally sunk in a marine sanctuary—shared my crazy idea and pushed the project through. After magnetically attaching a prototype to the side, we received the green light from the authorities; an underwater gallery was, ecologically speaking, entirely safe. During the four months the frames remained underwater, salt coated them with a patina, making each piece unique, inimitable. Though I knew it would leave some trace, I had not foreseen that nature’s work could be so expressive.
Seeing divers experience the photographs was so exciting I had to show these peculiar beauties ashore. [End Page 96]
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Austrian photographer Andreas Franke explored and photographed the wreck USS Vandenberg in 2010. He has been in the business for more than twenty years, and Luerzer’s Archive has named him among the two hundred best photographers worldwide. His commercial clients include Ben & Jerry’s, Coca-Cola, Ford, and Heineken. Franke’s jobs have led him to several countries on several continents, as has his passion for diving. In his pictures he crosses the borderline between fantasy and real life.