Special Features — 08 July 2016
The undersea art of Andreas Franke

By Greg Carannante

City & Shore Magazine

OK, here’s an idea. Dive 90 feet deep into the Atlantic a few miles off Key West to explore a massive WWII-era shipwreck. And at the same time, take in a fantastic photo exhibit in a uniquely South Florida gallery – the sunken ship itself.

The brainchild of Viennese photographer Andreas Franke, the exhibit on the USNS Vandenberg, which in 2009 became the world’s second-largest vessel sunk to become an artificial reef, will over four months turn a projected 12,000 divers into undersea gallery-goers.

Franke shoots sunken ships and then digitally enhances the photos into thematic conceptual images of undersea human life – for example, a young girl on deck with a butterfly net trying to catch fish swimming by. Then Franke returns the artworks to their source, where they take on what he calls “the patina of the sea” – the attachment of marine life to their surface – before being exhibited in a gallery on dry land.

Though his first underwater exhibit was shot and displayed on the Vandenberg in 2010, and a second a year later, this fifth installation of the series he calls “The Sinking World” is a little different. In April the 520-foot missile-tracking ship was hung with new, larger prints of images shot on the sunken Greek freighter Stavronikita off Barbados a couple of years ago.

The concept was conceived seven years ago when Franke, 48, came upon a shipwreck in Croatia and began shooting. A diver and commercial photographer for more than 20 years, Franke says: “For me it was always a wish – how can I bring those two together? I’m a conceptual photographer, so back in the studio I added a person. I said, ‘OK, that looks a lot better than I hoped.’ ”

An article about the Vandenberg drew him across the ocean a couple of years later. Here, he says, “I came up with the idea – maybe it’s possible to have an installation underwater, to bring it back where everything started, to the Vandenberg.”

It took months to make the right connection: Joe Weatherby, whose Artificial Reefs International in Key West was the ship’s wrecker. “I knocked on his door and said let’s make it an underwater photo gallery,” Franke says. “[Joe] said, ‘OK, that’s crazy enough – he’s crazy, I’m even crazier.’ ”

Franke makes five to six dives – “[The view is] empty, only fish and my camera” – before returning to his studio in Vienna to narrow the thousand images to 12 and photograph the models, sets and props he will Photoshop into the underwater shots.

“It’s almost like a fashion shoot,” he says. Months of production, printing and waterproofing precede shipping the pieces back here and hanging them with magnets on the steel wrecks.

At the end of this month, Franke and Weatherby, now his Florida associate, will bring up the prints and show them off at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center in Key West, tentatively from mid-August to January. Contact the center at 35 E. Quay Road, 305-809-4750.

“This is one of the most important parts – that the sea converts them,” Franke says. “It is unique with all the growths, the patina of the sea. I never know if they will look fantastic afterwards. The ocean is the one who makes it good.”

The 4×5-foot pieces sell for $15,000-$20,000. Smaller reproductions are available for $300 on Franke’s website, thesinkingworld.com.

IF YOU GO

Dive companies 

Adventure Watersport Charters
adventurewatersportcharters.com, 305-453-6070

Dive Key West
divekeywest.com,
305-296-3823,
800-426-0707

Finz Dive Center
finzdivecenter.com,
305-395-0880 

Florida Straits Diving
floridastraitsdiving.com,
305-587-4018

Key West Dive Center
keywestdivecenter.com,
866-563-1805

Lost Reef Adventures
lostreefadventures.com,
305-296-9737

South Point Divers
southpointdivers.com,
305-292-9778

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