Photo by Shannon Wells

Photo by Shannon Wells


TREES Artist, 2012

“What I like best about underwater photography is giving a visual voice to the invisible. What I like least is the prospect of drowning.”—David 

David Doubilet has changed the way we see our planet’s rivers and oceans and influenced the way photographs are made of it. Over the last four decades, he has brought us face to face with an underwater world of mesmerizing landscapes and mysterious creatures–coral reefs, blue-ringed octopuses, leafy sea dragons, schools of giant bumphead parrotfish, tiger sharks. Doubilet estimates that he has spent half his lifetime in the water, and the result of that dedication is an elegant and groundbreaking body of work that has set the standard for underwater photography.

Doubilet is a street photographer working in an alien environment that can be hostile to humans and camera equipment. He has snorkeled the Jardine River in Australia in search of saltwater crocodiles and dived the Pacific near the Galapagos Islands to document ghostly hammerhead sharks seeking colder waters. He is an adventurer with an artist’s eye. “He was the first artist to swim,” says David Griffin. “I’m still waiting for someone in space to do what he did underwater.” A pioneer and advocate, Doubilet’s passion for the sea is matched only by his compassion for it. Humans have only been going under the sea for 50 years, he says, and “we are in a race between discovery and destruction.”

Born in New York in 1946, Doubilet’s career as an underwater photographer started early. At the age of 12, he used a rubber anesthesiologist’s bag from his father’s hospital to take his Brownie Hawkeye camera underwater. He has been shooting for National Geographic since his first assignment in 1971 and has photographed more than 60 stories for the magazine–from the cold kelp forests in the southwest Pacific to the labyrinthine freshwater channels of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. He is the recipient of many awards, including the Lowell Thomas Award, the Sara Prize, and the Lennart Nilsson Award in Photography. Doubilet is a member of the Royal Photographic Society and the Diving Hall of Fame. He has published seven books on the sea, including Fish Face (2003) and Water Light Time (1999).