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I lay on the deck exhausted, surrounded by models, an assistant, a captain and crew and $20,000 dollars in equipment. The first real shoot was over, in the can, a wrap. As everyone went about his or her business, the models getting dressed, the assistant breaking down the equipment, the captain getting underway back to port, I lay with my eyes shut trying to remember all the shots I had taken in the last hour. I was filled with that anxiety every photographer feels, did I get the one? It really didn't matter, this trip was over. When I set out to do this project I didn't know how hard it would be. I've always appreciated fine art, music, food, wine, most things of an artistic nature, but I never realized how difficult it is to create art. I thought about how I'd arrived at this stage. Those first thoughts of how I could make people see and feel the connection that we all have with the sea. The days of writing out a plan which after finishing and reading seemed next to impossible to accomplish. A plan that, although written, I didn't immediately act upon. Not until the day I saw underwater photographer David Doubilet give a presentation of his work, was I finally inspired to embark upon my own project. I recalled the begging and borrowing of money, the research and purchase of equipment, the trips taken to test equipment, models and locations, the disappointingly murky water and lack of sea life. The supposed first "real" shoot, two months earlier, that saw me and a crew of six, on the clock, hanging around a beautiful tropical hotel for four days. For the average tourist lying on the beach, those days must have seemed perfect. It was sunny with a bit of a breeze, just enough to keep heat down and the day pleasant. For me, the breeze kept us from getting on the ocean. I was slowly going crazy with the thought of all the wasted time, planes, hotels, food, equipment and effort it had taken to get this far. I had already gone over budget and hadn't counted on the unfortunate weather. I just kept saying, "We'll get it tomorrow." On the last day, the winds died down enough to get out, but as we arrived on our dive site the clouds rolled in. I wondered if this project was cursed. When I conceived this project it was an attempt to bring together my passion and reverence for photography, the ocean and it's inhabitants, and the human form. I knew what I envisioned and the message I wanted to impart, but wasn't sure it could be done. I began to figure out why I hadn't seen any pictures like the ones I was trying to get. I decided I would try to get something despite the weather; if all else failed the models would get used to swimming with the dolphins and I could test everything, again. As it turned out, I got enough on film to confirm that everything could work, weather permitting. Though a far cry from what I'd envisioned, I saw sufficient potential in those pictures to keep going. I hadn't planned on two shoots at this location (my original plan comprised three different locations) but this location promised dolphins, and I wanted dolphins. So to return here, another location would have to be sacrificed. That being arranged, here we were returning to port, me lying there on deck disbelieving it was really over. Even today had had its moments. Arriving at the dive site in the morning the water seemed a little cloudy. The captain said it was just how things are sometimes, like the weather. On this reshoot we planned to shoot everything in one day, a morning session and one after lunch. The morning session was uneventful except for the lack of clarity of the water. Our plan was working. I really felt like we were getting close to what I had envisioned. But the best was yet to come. After returning to port for lunch, we headed back out to our site. As we approached the site something had changed, the water was an azure blue, crystal clear to the bottom. Apparently the tides had changed both the water and my luck. During the next hour's shoot it was as if Poseidon himself was giving his blessing of the union I had envisioned. I barely remember what happened during the shoot, it was like a dream. One of the models swam to open water. The dolphins joined her and they danced and touched just as I had hoped they would. As long as her breath would allow they seemed to connect. The first real image was shot. Each time that she returned, the dolphins accepted her closer and with much greater ease. Each new model went through the same introduction with the dolphins, showing the dolphins her desire to get closer to them. The dolphins accepted the offer as if they too wanted to get closer. I just kept taking pictures of each interaction, looking for the moments that I had dreamed of long ago. As I lay there on our way back into port I could honestly remember only a few shots, it all happened so fast. A part of me wondered if it had really happened. I knew it had, reassured by a hand full of exposed film.
Todd Gary Essick