A Conversation With Martin Edge

A Conversation With… MARTIN EDGE

Welcome to the second installment in this (hopefully) monthly series, you can read A Conversation With Todd Mintz and rand McMeins here. This month I speak to Martin Edge and unusually the format is more typical interview, than the conversation style I will usually use for this series.

Martin Edge with one of his scrapbooks from the early 1980s, filled with images that inspired him, cut from magazines.

This month I am at Martin Edge’s house on the south coast of England. Martin is considered the master of teaching underwater photography who has helped countless photographers not just grasp the basics, but excel all the way to the top. His book, The Underwater Photographer, published by Focal Press, is widely regarded as THE reference for underwater photographers combining simple to follow explanations, real world advice and a detailed coverage of the subject. With the brand new, completely re-written 4th Edition being released imminently, I was keen to quiz Martin about the new book, but I was also interested in trying to understand what has made him such a successful teacher and communicator. I also wanted to chat about his personal underwater photography, which does not always receive the attention it deserves, and his love of innovative techniques.

More than 30 years have passed since Martin Edge could be considered a newbie, but after speaking to him, I believe his ability as a teacher of underwater photography is intrinsically linked with the challenges of his formative photo years. Born in the landlocked English county of Staffordshire, “with no interest in diving” and from a family “devoid of anyone artistic, either musicians or painters”, Martin joined the police force aged 19, in 1974. In 1976, he married Sylvia, and in 1977 they moved, with work, to Dorset on the south coast. It was here he got his first taste of diving, when a fellow police officer suggested he gave it a go. “These were the days before widespread diving certification, we just went in and I loved it. I was hooked and Sylv and I joined a local dive club.”

One wouldn’t normally expect the British police force to be a place to nurture artistic talents, but more than once it played a key role in Martin’s photographic development. “My partner, at the time, in the Vice Squad was an avid [land] photographer and he persuaded me to hire a Nikonos III for my first ‘tropical’ trip to the Spanish island of Minorca. I knew nothing of f-stops or shutter speeds, but he taught me the basics. The day before we left, I called into Peter Rowlands’ place, Ocean Optics, which at the time was near Battersea power station in London. He hired me an Oceanic 2000 flashgun.”


Martin Edge in the 1980s, with a variety of underwater cameras.

“When we got to Minorca the compressor was broken, so we spent the week snorkelling. Peter had suggested settings of F8 at 1/60th. I got my slides developed and they all came out. I was off. I continued to build up the kit. I got an extension tube from Steve Frink, when he was in Key Largo. 1982 - I went in and bought it from the man himself. It was the first and only time I have met him [Steve wrote the foreword for the 4th Edition]. I bought a Subawider [wide angle supplementary lens] for the Nikonos from Peter. Then an Oceanic 2003 strobe and borrowed £500 from my Mum to buy a secondhand 15mm.”

Martin describes these early acquisitions with an enthusiasm we can all relate to. There is a similar excitement as he recalls his first major competition success at the internationally renowned Brighton Underwater Film Festival (UK). We all remember that treasured moment when we first see our name up there with the names we’ve long admired. “I entered a picture of shrimp in an anemone at Brighton in 1983 and there it was in the winners list flanked by pictures taken by Flip Schulke and Jacques Cousteau. That was a wow moment.”

Martin credits much of his success to the vibrant British underwater photography scene at the beginning of the 1980s and the generosity of others with their knowledge. He recalls with great affection, and detail considering it was more than 25 years ago, how these photographers gave him their time and took a genuine interest in his photography.  For years now, he has been the one giving encouragement and advice, but the fact that he still values dearly the 1:1 feedback he received is certainly part of what makes him such a successful teacher.

“My heroes, at the time, were Pete Rowlands, his mate Steve Burchill, Pete Scoones and Mike Valentine. Although Mike Valentine rubbed up a few of the pros the wrong way, he was always really encouraging with new photographers [Valentine is now an underwater cameraman for movies, he was behind the housing for the likes of Star Wars, Bond, Bourne, Indiana Jones etc]. He was at Brighton ‘83 presenting one of his AVs [audio-visual slide show] and came up and asked me if I had anything in the competition and I told him I was highly commended. I said, “You don’t want to see this!” He said. “I do.” And I remember he walked the whole length of the dome at Brighton with me to see my picture. And he was really enthusiastic. You don’t forget something like that.”

“BSoUP [the British Society of Underwater Photographers] was very important in my development. I discovered BSoUP in 1983 and drove up to meetings each month. At my first meeting, Brian Pitkin welcomed me and Georgette [Douwma] won the monthly Focus On competition. I won BSoUP’s Best Beginner in 1985.”


Martin first published images.

Martin rapidly rose to prominence on the international stage in the second half of the 1980s as a result of innovative six projector AVs, which he put together with AV expert Jim Eldridge. It was a poignant time because his daughter, Katie, was born with cerebral palsy and Martin recalls how working on the AVs helped pass the evenings between hospital visits. Martin and Jim premiered “Sea Of Dreams” based on photos from the Red Sea at BSoUP, and the BSoUP newsletter recalls that uniquely it received a “spontaneous standing ovation” from the audience of experienced underwater photographers.

“Sea Of Dreams was followed up with “Imaginations” set in the Maldives, which we launched at Brighton in 1987, following Stan Waterman on the stage. I remember Kurt Amsler being very encouraging. We were the first to do it with underwater pictures, so we got invited to film festivals across Europe. At a Festival in Antwerp, Jim and I turned up to the Gala Dinner in our dickey bows and found we were completely overdressed. The only other people who were similarly dressed were Hans and Lotte Hass, so the four of us spent a delightful evening together. In fact we were almost inseparable from that moment on at the event.”


An early technique article from the original, printed Underwater Photography Magazine.

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