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Underwater Photography in 1913

Lately, we’ve been having 70° days here in Newport News and I can’t help but daydream about the beach.
Today, I wanted to share a few of the images that we have on underwater photography, specifically MS0175, the collection of John E. Williamson Photographs.

Collection MS0175 consists of photographs taken by John Ernest Williamson, a photographer for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot until 1913. Williamson is recognized as the first person to successfully photograph under water and actually went on to work on feature films such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mysterious Island. Below I’ll show you some images that were taken to chronicle a dive on the wreck of a blockade runner in the Bahamas.

I hope that this post will make you want to take a dip… Or, at the very least, come by for a visit sometime soon to view the rest of these images in person.

Left: Right:

Cutaway view illustrating how the diving bell was Underwater diving bell used by John Ernest

used for underwater photography Williamson for underwater photography

MS0175.027 MS0175.038

Charles Williamson, a sea captain from Norfolk, Virginia, and father of John E. Williamson, invented a deep-sea tube made of a series of concentric, interlocking iron rings, which facilitated easy communication and plentiful air down to depths of up to 250 feet. Originally intended to be used for underwater repair and for ship salvage, his son realized that his father’s mechanism could also be used to obtain undersea photographs.

Above left, an exterior view of the diving bell is illustrated in order to reveal how an operator could use an early movie camera by sitting inside. Above right, a photograph of the diving bell on land.

Underwater wreck of confederate blockade-runner
By John Ernest Williamson and Virginia Ferguson

Written on verso:
Wonderful depth to this. Top of reef is fully 75 feet away from the chamber. Have a fine panoramic view of this in movie with thousands of fish darting around past camera in schools.

Underwater scene taken from a diving bell
By John Ernest Williamson

A peaceful underwater scene taken from the diving bell during the dive on the wreck of a blockade runner in the Bahamas.

Underwater Scene
By John Ernest Williamson

A view of the sea floor as seen from the interior of the diving bell.

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