‘Like Swimming Through a Painting’


For San Diego Underwater Photographic Society president Jami Feldman, being below the ocean’s surface with her equipment is like visiting in a sanctuary. “It’s quiet, you can’t talk or make noise,” she said. “It’s surreal in a sense. When you are weightless and see the marine life you don’t see every day, there is just calm.”

Until, of course, a school of fish or sea lion comes swimming up. Then it’s all systems go to get the perfect photo. “These creatures rarely hold still, so you are constantly shooting and hoping,” Feldman said.

A 40-plus piece collection from 13 San Diego Underwater Photographic Society members, including Feldman, is on view at the La Jolla Library as part of the new exhibition “A World Underwater.”

The show runs through Sept. 14, with an opening reception 2-4 p.m. Sunday, June 23 at 7555 Draper Ave.

Other participants include Bob Pooley, Corinne Klein, Daina Buchner, Erin Chandler, Greg Volger, Marla Matin, Matthew Meier, Mike Couffer, Robert Yin, Teresa Pooley, Walter Heim and Nan Oslett.

Their images depict tiny fish that live in the coral from the Sea of Cortez, kelp forests and sea fans from the Caribbean, and local pinnipeds and Garibaldi.

“These are things no one would see unless they dive,” said Diane Ryason, La Jolla Library Art Committee member and exhibition curator. “There are true-to-life underwater landscapes, plants, fish, sea life, coral reefs — you name it. I was told there is more variety of plant and animal species underwater than there is on land. And every ocean is different; the temperature effects a lot of what thrives there. These photos are not just of what is off-shore in La Jolla, they also document the Caribbean, and way north past the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Canada.”

A former underwater photographer herself, Ryason said she has wanted to put on an underwater photography exhibit for years. Noting the library often hosts painting exhibitions, she said this would be a unique subject matter.

“Diving is not for everyone,” she explained, “so this is a way to bring those sights to the surface. Diving is like swimming through a painting, you are just surrounded by creatures of all kinds. And you learn a lot. Seeing images like these gives the view an appreciation for the diversity and the beauty of this planet, and perhaps will encourage people to be more aware of conserving it.

“About 70 percent of the Earth is covered by water; if you see it, you have a greater appreciation for what is actually there. It might encourage people who aren’t necessarily ocean-going people to take a closer look.”

Even for a creature that is visible from the surface in La Jolla, these photos provide a different perspective.

One of the images Feldman submitted for the show — which she called a personal favorite — is of a juvenile sea lion, taken off the coast of Mexico. “There is a season in which they are super playful,” she said. “When they are away from mom and dad, (photographers) can get lucky because they are super curious about you. They mischievous. They are like puppy dogs.”

When composing her shot that day, Feldman said: “It must have seen its own reflection in my equipment, because it stayed around for a while and played with me. It just kept looking at me.”

Of the other images in the show, she said some are “very artsy” while others are simply “beautiful, crisp and clean shots” from the various members. Founded in 1961, the San Diego Underwater Photographic Society has members of all ages and experience levels. For “A World Underwater,” members produced works on canvas and metal, and most will attend the reception to discuss their work and their diving experiences.

Feldman will not be at the reception but will be on a dive in Mexico: “I’ll be living on a boat for a week, diving every day. I’m just hoping to see some stuff I haven’t seen before.”

Associated with the show are events for all ages throughout the summer. One of the artists is a children’s book author with a book she titled “A, B, Seas,” in which each letter of the alphabet is paired with a creature from the ocean. At a time to be determined, the author will read from the book at storytime. Then there’s a couple who do underwater videography and follow whales. They plan to present a whale film. Another member will bring his photography equipment for an up-close look at what it takes to be an underwater photographer. The lineup will be posted as dates are confirmed at

IF YOU GO: “A World Underwater,” opens with a free reception, 2 p.m. Sunday, June 23 at La Jolla Riford Library, 7555 Draper Ave., and will be on view through Sept. 14 during library hours in the Community Room. (858) 552-1657.