Surreal underwater photographer Henrik Welle is…
The Man from Atlantis
BY JOHN D. ADAMS
Like an epic character out of Melville or Conrad or Stevenson, underwater photographer Henrik Welle would sail across oceans to tame an unnamed restlessness and uncover his passionate obsessions. One look at Henrik Welle’s underwater photography conveys his exultation for marine life and human interaction with the water. He has managed to imbue the majesty and mystery of the sea that any landlubber can appreciate. But it was many years before Welle would find the current that would propel him to combine art and the ocean. His is a centuries-old maritime tale that will lead him to the treasure of found passion.
From a pool to the sea
“Since I was a child I could dive underwater before I could even swim,” Welle recalls. “People would freak out, reminding my mother that I couldn’t swim. But my mother would just say, ‘He’s okay. He is like a turtle. He goes under, comes up and takes a breath, and then he goes down again.’” These adventures were poolside, of course. Welle didn’t live anywhere near natural bodies of water. “In Germany, it was tough to follow that passion.”
View some of Henrik Welle’s work
By 1997 Welle was living in Hamburg and working in marketing. But it wasn’t a satisfying choice. One day a friend suggested he learn how to scuba dive to see if perhaps that would lead him in a better direction. “It was the middle of winter and I went to an indoor pool to get some instructions. They put a tank on my back and threw me in. I was blown away. They had to drag me out of the pool. I thought, ‘Why haven’t I been doing this for years?’” He immediately began to inquire about how to become a dive instructor.
A year later, Welle had left his native Germany to take a six-month certification course with Ft. Lauderdale’s Pro Dive USA. “While I was going through dive classes I soon realized that if I did become an instructor, I’d probably never certify anybody because they wouldn’t meet my standards. So I still wasn’t going in the right direction. But I did have my certification as a dive master.”
A new hope
To make ends meet, Welle was working as a self-taught videographer and video editor. But he still felt a bit lost. Until something amazing happened. “I went on a dive vacation with some friends,” he says. “I had a cheap little camera with an underwater housing and I was just taking nature pictures underwater of what I liked. Everybody looked at them and were amazed by the pictures I took. Someone said, ‘Why don’t you do something with underwater photography?’ I sold all of my video equipment and got a proper camera and that’s how my nature pictures began.”
Because of his natural affinity for water, Welle could spend less time worrying about his dive equipment and concentrate on honing his photographic skills. He taught himself about lighting, and how to contend with water temperature, currents, and the flotsam that is eternally floating around his subjects. He began diving and photographing during different times of day. He learned that sometimes, the sea offers up its most exotic beauty at night. “You can look at a rock during the day, and it’s just a rock. But you do a night dive and that rock is exploding with all sorts of life with brilliant forms and colors coming out. That’s why I love night diving. So I do most of my pictures at night.”
Aqua, man, and the agent of time
Today, some of Welle’s most riveting work combines man and water in surprising and beautiful ways. But again, it was a friend’s suggestion that would ferry Welle to this connection. “A friend of mine asked me to do an author photo of him underwater. So we began brainstorming. He was fully dressed and sitting as he is in a café just reading a book. But he was underwater. When we started looking at the pictures, I thought: ‘Wow, this is really neat. Let’s do more.’”
After much experimentation, the black-suited Agent of Time was waterborne. In one arresting shot, he appears to be smoking, leaning against a wall while water approaches. “He is actually lying on the floor of a pool with weights in his pockets. The ‘smoke’ is milk coming out of his mouth. I took the picture then turned it so you see the surface of the water vertically.” More pictures with this man in black surfaced. “The body of work is called ‘The Only Time.’ The surface, the person and the wall. Past, present and future. He is the agent of time and is an everyman who can exist in all three times but always remains. And the only reality is the NOW.”
More work with man and water has developed, and Welle has a host of new ideas to explore. Like the great seaman explorers before him, it seems Welle has at last navigated to his own utopia. “This is my niche. This is my element. This is my passion.”