Underwater video art featuring South Australian marine life

Being a documentary filmmaker and public interest researcher is hard, slow and often thankless work. Investigations take time and energy, the process can be intellectually taxing and any rewards may take many years to crystallise. Fortunately, I’ve kept one foot in the camp of the practising artist, and this year I’ve focussed on producing and sharing new nature-based video works.

During 2017, I’ve made seven new works featuring South Australian marine life for exhibition in public art galleries and at special events. This blog post gives an overview of these works. All but one were shot this year.

Collectively, they are intended to present some of nature’s less familiar wonders to the wider public and make the underwater world accessible outside of the tiny community of snorkelers and divers that explore SA’s temperate waters.

The images below are all screenshots from the complete video works, each of which run for between 2 and 15 minutes. They can be presented in a “play once” manner or as looping installations.

Port Jackson Sharks

Port Jackson Sharks - Dan Monceaux (2017)
Port Jackson Sharks – Dan Monceaux (2017)

This video captures a previously undocumented aggregation of Port Jackson sharks on rocky reef north of the Port Noarlunga jetty. It runs for approximately 2 minutes and 15 seconds and premiered at the Friends of Gulf St Vincent’s event: “The wonderful world of sharks and rays… and why they need our help” on November 19, 2017.

Southern Fiddler Rays

Banjo Sharks - Dan Monceaux (2017)
Banjo Sharks – Dan Monceaux (2017)

This video captured the casual grace of Southern fiddler rays, cruising and resting near the jetty at Port Broughton, South Australia. It premiered at the Port Pirie Regional Art Gallery, where it was projected in a dedicated video theatrette.

Giant Australian Cuttlefish

Giant Australian cuttlefish - Dan Monceaux (2017)
Giant Australian cuttlefish – Dan Monceaux (2017)

This video was recorded during the annual giant Australian cuttlefish aggregation back in the winter of 2009. It is a one-shot film that show interactions between cuttlefish as males compete for the attention of a female, hidden beneath a ledge on the rocky reef between Whyalla and Point Lowly. The video runs for approximately 5 minutes.

Anemone Bloom

Anemone Bloom - Dan Monceaux (2017)
Anemone Bloom – Dan Monceaux (2017)

Anemone bloom captures the bizarre phenomenon of biofluorescence. This occurs in some living organisms, when they are subjected to blue-ultraviolet light. The resulting colours can be very intense, as the contrast between the anemones and the algae beside them shows. It was shown at Gallery 1855 in Tea Tree Gully as part of the group exhibition “Bloom”.

The Anemone’s Garden

This experiment in blue-ultraviolet light and biofluoresce peers into a tiny crack between two rocks underwater in the Port River estuary, at Garden Island, South Australia. Anemones are a constant, but cameo appearances feature two crustaceans and several sea slugs. It was shown during the exhibition Neon Revival at Gallery Yampu in August 2017.

The Mangrove Jellyfish

The Mangrove Jellyfish is a simple study of Cassiopea ndrosia, the Mangrove Jellyfish. It occasionally blooms in the Port River, and this piece shows a larger speimen, pulsing on the mucky seabed in its feeding position. It was shown at Gallery Yampu during the Adelaide Fringe in March 2017.

Sea Anemone

This simple one-shot film shows a sea anemone feeding. It was filmed near the Garden Island fishing jetty and was shown at Gallery Yampu during Adelaide Fringe in March 2017.

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Photography: From beneath the sea to Sydney gallery

Some of you will already know that I’ve had a long-standing love affair with photography and the natural world. Eight odd years ago, I bought my first digital SLR camera. A second-hand Nikon FE, I bought my first prime lens (a 50mm f1.4) and ever since, I’ve had great trouble putting it down. I learned to burn film like a chain-smoker does cigarettes- I rolled my own reels of film, developed black and white stock myself and loved every minute of it. Combined with my life-long passion for observing and recording wildlife, my photographic kit expanded rapidly and considerably, absorbing an extensive range of prime lenses, a couple of zooms and a box full of filters. Often seen toting two camera bodies and multiple lenses, my kit became formidable- both in its image-making potency and for the sheer weight of all that metal and glass.

Around 2004, my interests shifted more into 3D photography (stereography) exhibiting 3D works in Adelaide twice in 2005, before I veered into Super8 filmmaking. The leap into HD video-making followed in 2006, and since then I’ve been keeping a keen eye on the photographic forefront, waiting for an opportunity to put my beloved old lenses back on a DSLR body. I guarantee it’ll be a Nikon or a Fuji when I finally commit, as both of these offer Nikon F-mounts and I can snap my ol AI-S lenses straight on the body and shoot with all the manual controls that make photography equal parts art and science.

Starfish undercover
Starfish undercover

Until that day comes, I’ll be content excercising my Panasonic DMC-FT1 camera (or DMC-TS1 as it’s known in the USA) that I purchased earlier this year. The rugged little point-and-shoot has allowed me to take 12 mega-pixel photos in an environment that has always fascinated me- the Southern Ocean (along with 720p HD video, but, that’s another blog post). Seldom photographed by comparison to warmer Australian waters, I was encouraged by PanasonicAU on Twitter to submit a gallery of my recent work to LumixLife: an exhibition they were then planning. Several weeks later, I’m very pleased to announce that my collection of ten images has been selected from a field of about one-hundred-and-eighty galleries and will be exhibited on October 8th in Global Gallery, in Paddington, Sydney. Featuring a collection of starfish, sweep, cuttlefish and a colony of ascidian sea squirts, my shots are also visible online, but unfortunately will not be offered for sale at the gallery site.

After receiving some very warm compliments from my social networks on Facebook and Twitter, and being the entrepreneurial sort, I decided to look into options for selling photo prints online. The site I’ve settled with is RedBubble, as suggested by Simon Loffler from the creatively-connected blog, Home Slice. Like many other print-on-demand services, Red Bubble allows artists to upload high-resolution artwork, select from a range of printing options, set their prices and make enlargements available to the world. It’s free to register and offers a remarkably easy and expedient process for turning your artworks into saleable products. Many comparable sites offered much murkier pricing structures, uglier interfaces and in some cases, prohibitive registration fees.

If you’d like to support this blog and my photographic efforts, please consider buying an enlargement or two from my recent exhibition. If you do so, please shoot me a message, or better still take a picture of the artwork once it’s hanging in its new home- I’d love to see where my local surveys of underwater life end up next!

Dan Monceaux

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Eco-tourism: Swim with sea lion and dolphin at Baird Bay

Back in June, Emma Sterling and I were travelling over Eyre Peninsula on the west coast of South Australia. We’d been touring with the children’s theatre production ‘Wolf’ as video techs and after our final show in Ceduna, we decided we’d take our time exploring the maginifcent coastline on the journey home to Adelaide. One of the main attractions for us on western Eyre Peninsula was Baird Bay (not far from Streaky Bay) where we’d been told magnificent opportunities to swim with Australian Sea Lions awaited. Lying somewhat off the beaten track, the journey to Baird bay was well worth the effort and less than two hours in the water yielded some spectacular results. Despite arriving after the official close of the season, Alan Price from Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience took me out on his boat regardless. Despite the onset of winter, the shallow waters in the bay’s rocky reef were around 19 degrees centigrade. After sighting s cluster of sea lions on the rocks, several jumped in the water and Alan dropped anchor. I jumped overboard with my snorkel, fins, weight belt and Panasonic DMC-FT1 camera on a monopod and the fun began.

After enjoying the curious company of several females, a passing bull and a super-playful cub, I unhooked the anchor and climbed back aboard the boat. I asked Alan about the local dolphin pod, and we motored off in the hope of finding them too. Sure enough, Alan’s 17 years of experience in the area paid off, and I was afforded two fleeting opportunities to shoot video of the pod as they swam around me. The sound of them chattering in the clip comes straight off the Panasonic DMC-FT1’s built-in microphone. While I had swum with sea lion before on two trips to Goose Island back in the late 1990’s, this was my first encounter with dolphin in the wild and it was truly magical.


Baird Bay, South Australia – swim with sea lion & dolphin from Dan Monceaux on Vimeo.

The featured clip is a promo piece Emma Sterling cut of the footage I shot that day. For anyone looking to swim with sea lion and dolphin in their natural habitat, we can’t recommend Baird Bay highly enough. Tours are advanced eco-tourism certified and wetsuits, masks and fins can be loaned on site. The certification ensures that tour-goers experience ‘an opportunity to learn about the environment with an operator who is committed to achieving best practice when using resources wisely, contributing to the conservation of the environment and helping local communities.‘ Alan and Trish have a long and special connection with the local wildlife, and have hand-reared several orphaned pups and helped to manage local feral cat populations themselves over the years.

Dan Monceaux

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