Monday, February 16, 2009

Jett Britnell Interviews Chris Newbert

"BLUE! Blue. Blue, blue, blue! My immediate reaction every time I slide into the open sea miles off the Kona Coast and look down into thousands of feet of ocean is simply, blue. Endless, transparent blue”
Chris Newbert
Source: "Within a Rainbowed Sea"

Since taking up underwater photography in 1972, Chris Newbert, has won over 30 awards in international underwater photographic competitions and his photos have appeared in over 300 books and magazines world-wide. In 1985 he published his first underwater photographic book, Within a Rainbowed Sea. Now in its 10th printing, this classic volume continues to gather critical acclaim as one of the most beautiful photographic books of all time. It stands as being one of the most award-winning photographic books ever published.

Chris has garnered high praise has come from all quarters of the publishing world. Publishers Weekly has called Within a Rainbowed Sea "one of the most remarkable photographic books ever published.” while Playboy Magazine referred to it as "the ultimate coffee table book." The 10th Anniversary Issue of Islands Magazine has included Chris Newbert's work in a portfolio of photographs from those who they consider ten of the world's great contemporary photographers.

Perhaps the ultimate accolade bestowed upon Chris occurred when the "Limited Edition" of Within a Rainbowed Sea was selected by the White House as an official Presidential Gift of State to be used by the President as a gift to visiting dignitaries. On May 4th, 1986, President Reagan gave copy number 85 to Emperor Hirohito of Japan, on the occasion of his 85th birthday and the 60th anniversary of his reign. Yes, there is no denying that Within a Ranbowed Sea is an incredibly brilliant book by a true master of his craft.

In 1987 while on a live aboard dive trip in Chuuk (formerly Truk Lagoon) while onboard the SS Thorfinn, I was fortunate to meet Chris Newbert. It was only the day before during our flight over from Vancouver that I was told by Neil McDaniel, then editor of Canada’s DIVER Magazine, that the first article I had ever written was going to be published. I was keenly looking forward to meeting Mr. Newbert because his book was a creatively inspiring tome. During the flight, I jotted down some questions for Chris in the hope that he might agree to being interviewed by me. I felt like such an upstart. I mean, really, why would someone of Chris Newbert's stature ever agree to being interviewed by someone whose work had actually not yet been published.

Apart from getting to know Chris during this trip and availing myself of the opportunity to observe how he went about his work underwater, he did generously agree to being interviewed by me. I believe the deal was sealed when I stated that I would buy the beers. My good friend, Gary Bridges, sat in during the interview and took a picture of a very young Chris (right) and Jett (left).

Upon returning home, I approached Peter Rowlands, the editor of a British Magazine called Underwater Photography. Peter liked the Newbert interview and published it word for word in their July/August 1988 issue. Peter gave it the title "Jett Britnell Interviews Chris Newbert" and the interview was illustrated with some images from Within a Rainbowed Sea, so it seemed like a good win for all parties concerned.

All in all, our Truk Lagoon trip turned out to be an amazing adventure shared with my good friends, Gary Bridges, Neil McDaniel and the late, great, Jack Van Hove. I remain forever grateful for the generosity that Chris Newbert showed towards me, a neophyte underwater photojournalist, and equally so to Peter Rowlands for providing a stepping stone on the path of my photojournalistic pursuits.

Some of my favorite quotes from the Chris Newbert interview…

Within a Rainbowed Sea is considered to be one of the finest collection of marine images ever published. When was the book conceived?

Newbert: The idea of doing a book occurred to me right after I started underwater photography. In fact, a girlfriend thought my early pictures were fabulous and suggested I publish a book. I felt my pictures were terrible, but the idea of a book took root in my mind. All I was at the time was a college drop-out dive guide. The thought of being an author had a nice ring to it. Over the years the concept of the book evolved. It went through many stages in my mind. Several years ago, I wrote on a piece of paper what I felt the final product should contain. I still have that piece of paper today.. It’s astounding to read how close I came to my ideal vision – it’s very close.

There were no diver pictures in the book, any particular reason?

Newbert: Yes, I think diver pictures are the most boring and redundant photographs on the face of the earth.

That’s a strong statement given the popularity of diver photographs in magazines.

Newbert: I hate to say it as I fear it might insult a lot of people. It’s just my personal feeling; what fascinates me about the ocean is the marine life, not divers. Most modern day underwater photographs portrayed in the media features the diver. The marine life and the reef become a prop. To me it’s embarrassing to be an underwater photographer when I know the public’s image is what they see in magazines. Somehow, underwater photography has been taken over by this moronic concentration on the diver. For example, you never saw Ansel Adam’s photographs feature hikers in color-coordinated backpacks and hiking shoes. It also promotes something that I feel is detrimental to marine life. Everybody is into this idea that they have to touch, feel, hold, pose and do silly things with marine life. Ultimately, you end up with a “stupid picture”. It’s a ridiculous trend. I think the diving magazines have been irresponsible in this regard.