In 1983, photographer Karen Glaser was given an underwater 35 mm film camera and it changed her life. She went on to photograph water and the teeming life which inhabits it, in rivers, springs, swamps, and oceans.
She deliberatley chose not to represent the life that she encountered in a slicked up way and instead worked with what was there. In doing so, Glaser was choosing to celebrate the complexity, richness, and messiness of the environments that she was encountering. Her photographs are not less beautiful for their lack of slicked-up-ness.
Dust Storm in Catfish Sink, 2006 © Karen Glaser
Underwater photography works in a similar way to aerial photography, in that both approaches are able to show the spectator something which they have never seen before and from a perspective that is not normally available to them. We can see the underbellies of a school of hammerhead sharks swimming by or a vast landscape geometrically patterned by animal feedlots or greenhouses.
Floating Hearts, 2008 © Karen Glaser
A change in perspective is thought to help engender a change in perception, and for Glaser this was certainly the case. She discovered through underwater photography a world of possibilities and the ability to steal a fleeting moment of time from a constant state of watery flux.
Though it is not the fluxing nature of Glaser’s subjects that I first noticed when looking at her photographs, even though the movement of water, fishes, and sediments are all readily apparent. Instead, it is the shift in perspective that I most readily notice. Who or what would normally see the things that Glaser is showing us?
Glaser gives the spectators of her photographs an intimate and sensuous encounter with how it may be to experience being in the world from the perspective of another nonhuman being. This change in perception raises an awareness of, and increased sensitivity to, nonhuman beings and so constitutes a shift in ecological perception.
Green Orange Grove Sink, 2005 © Karen Glaser
The intimacy and ecological perception generated by Glaser’s approach to photography sits in contrast to Anthropocene photography, which through its aerial perspective, tends to increase distance and reduce intimacy with a spectator.