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Zooming In on Life Under the Sea

Veteran photographer Jeffrey L. Rotman fills his new book, 'Underwater Eden: 365 Days,' with dazzling images of ocean creatures. Read an excerpt, and see the slide show.

Excerpt from the introduction to Underwater Eden: 365 Days:

I knew that nothing could adequately prepare me for the wonder that awaited me—not the stories I had heard, not the film on a giant screen, not even the expectation of surprise. Jittery with excitement and anticipation, I dove into the cold water. A great white shark—or "Mister Big," as I called them—was out there! I had always been aware of his presence even when he wasn't in sight. I couldn't wait to see him surge out of the depths and appear before me in the flesh.

I was certain that I had fully prepared myself for his arrival: a spare camera battery was hanging inside the steel cage with me, there was plenty of air in the tanks, and copious blood poured onto the surface of the water to lure him in to me. We had been at this for ten days, when he finally, miraculously appeared—a blurry gray stain stealing its way through the sun's rays. I saw the slightly open jaws of the great white.

It wasn't until later, when I was back in the boat, that I began to piece together that first encounter. Yet he had come so close at such high speed that I might as well have been reconstructing the path of a flash of lightening. And when I finally realized that the film in my camera was blank, I tried to rationalize why I, a professional photographer, who had been waiting and planning for this very event with such great care and enormous investment, why I had failed to take a single shot. Looking back, I understood that being in the presence of such power so stunned me that it erased my very purpose and literally made me forget my mission.

At our second meeting, I managed to atone for my professional failings. Ironically, the paralysis that gripped me on that first occasion ultimately became the essence of my success. Even after 34 years of underwater photography, I still have that child-like wonder and enthusiasm that first overwhelmed me the moment I discovered the world beneath the seas. It is that passion that has transformed my initial casual interest in underwater photography into a full-blown career and a way of life.

Much has changed with the passing of the years: The equipment is far more sophisticated, the competition more fierce, the horizons have expanded to encompass the entire globe, and, by the bye, my diving suit has expanded a few sizes as well. Throughout all those years, one consistent thread has held it all together: my excitement at the beginning of every photographic assignment and at the end of each, the rich taste and deep thirst that fill me until the next dive.

A long time ago, there was a first dive, the very first time I was exposed to this new world. It was a brisk morning at Marblehead, Massachusetts, when a good friend pulled me into the cold ocean waters to show me how to free dive. As I entered the water, it was my initial instinct to keep the air in my lungs—what a strange sensation to breathe underwater! I'm convinced that only an astronaut can relate to this feeling, can understand the true meaning of "alien world."

I think it was this first encounter with the wild and free that stirred in me the urge to hunt. The silence surrounding me and my movements in foreign territory—their territory—allowed me to get within touching distance of my "prey." All it took was to paralyze it with a single flash "shot" and I had it on film. The sight of those first developed pictures awoke in me the desire to pursue this ritual of stalking prey to photograph it.

Reprinted with the permission of Abrams; you can purchase the book at amazon.com, $29.95.

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