Andreas Franke’s ‘The Sinking World’ photo show gives new meaning to underwater photography


posted Friday, March 15, 2013 at 4:27 PM EDT


The gallery for Andreas Franke's latest photo show, "The Sinking World/The Stavronikita Project," is literally a wreck. The photographer's images adorn the SS Stavronikita -- a small Greek freighter which 20 years ago was destroyed by fire and sank into the Caribbean to become an artificial reef -- located some 80 feet (24 meters) below the surface of the crystal waters off the coast of Barbados. In other words, you'll need scuba gear to see the show.

Underwater, you'll encounter the SS Stavronikita's coral encrusted hull and Franke's exhibition of large laminated photographic prints. The prints have been attached to the ship's hull with magnets with great care to avoid damaging the outer skin of the wreck and disturbing sea life that surrounds it. After all, both the wreck and the submerged environs are important elements of the show.


Photo from "The Sinking World," copyright Andreas Franke

Franke's illusionistic rebellion

Franke is a well known commercial photographer whose clients have included companies such as Ford, Nike, Ben & Jerry's and Coca-Cola. Over the years, he's done a lot of scuba diving and enjoys the life aquatic. Diving in the Caribbean, he was struck by the beauty of the underwater world, and he realized that he didn't want to just take pictures of old wrecks and sea life -- he wanted to do something different. He got the idea to have his photography interact with the sea by displaying it underwater.

And, as you can see, the result of his effort is an exhibition that takes a very odd and decidedly non-commercial direction. There is a almost a touch of rebellion against commercialism in this exhibition. "In my photography I try to construct illusionistic worlds far beyond the often shallow and eye-catching ad business," Franke says.


Photo from "The Sinking World," copyright Andreas Franke

"The Sinking World" is certainly illusionistic. To my eye, it's a mixture of the bizarre, the beautiful and a little bit of rococo.

For this exhibition and an earlier underwater exhibition, "The Vandenberg Project" -- which hung on the hull of another sunken vessel, the USS Vandenberg -- Franke shot the original photographs in his Vienna studio. Like his commercial work, the images are very detailed, highly controlled and professional.

"The Sinking World" photographs are theatrical stage pieces, images out of a costume drama, with women wrapped in bosom popping gowns and the men in powdered wigs. They are in many ways his version of decadence, wealth and vanity. And, purposefully, they don't stray too far from Franke's commercial images used to sell famous brands and products.


Photo from "The Sinking World," copyright Andreas Franke

A living, breathing gallery

As theatrical and elaborate as they are, these are hardly aquatic scenes. Yet hung around the hull of the SS Stavronikita, they have begun to meld into the sea. All sorts of microorganisms have taken up residence on the images and, as Franke says, over time the photographs acquire a "certain, peculiar patina, endowing them with the countenance of bizarre evanescence and transfiguring them into rare beauties."

The tiny bits of life clinging to these photographs certainly add an interesting and eerie quality to them, although the result to my eye is more "Pirates of the Caribbean" than old Vienna.


Hanging the exhibition was a tricky, underwater undertaking.

For landlubber Franke-o-philes, who prefer not to have to dive to see photo shows, Franke has made large prints of the undersea exhibition that he sells through The Studios of Key West and his own website at

The exhibition "The Sinking World" is up, or rather -- down -- on the ocean floor until April 2013. So if you are in the neighborhood of Barbados and you've got your scuba gear in hand and a photography-loving dive partner, why not take the plunge and drop in on the exhibition. The location of the wreck is 13.8 N, 59.38 W and the gallery is best visited during daylight hours.


The wreck of the SS Stavronikita and the sea life that has absorbed it.