When I first heard about the book, I wondered at the title: The Art of Diving? Is it a technical manual about how to configure gear and perfect trim? Is it a step-by-step guide imploring me to do this, that, and the other in order to be a so-called better diver? I really wasn’t interested in a lecture. However, after flipping through the pages and seeing Alex Mustard’s images leap off the pages, a thought occurred to me: This book is way too pretty to be a training manual.
Soon after making that rather astute determination, I read Nick Hanna’s claim that diving is “an art form requiring grace and agility, a waltz with water and the creatures who live in it. The art of diving is more down to attitude than technique. It embodies a certain approach, an ability to embrace the spirit of the sea.” Ahh…so, The Art of Diving is a manual—but a much different kind of manual. Less technical and more spiritual, less Doing-It-Right and more Enjoying-It-More, Hanna and Mustard have put together a tender document suggesting that it doesn’t matter much how you do it, so long as you treasure the experience for what it is—a cleansing, invigorating return to nature…and to yourself. More than an overview of the underwater world, more than a history of the sport we all love, The Art of Diving is an elegant treatise on how to get more out of diving. Like Walden for the underwater set, the 272-page book is so well written and so beautifully photographed that it could convince a hydrophobe to rush headlong into a crashing surf at high tide. In a driving rain. Naked.
Divided into 8 chapters, The Art of Diving opens with a history of the sport. However, Hanna doesn’t just report on how people transformed diving by applying Advancement B to Equipment A. Conversely, Hanna focuses on how the the sport transformed people—people whose souls, passions, and outlooks were altered dramatically by venturing sub aqua and letting the sensation of diving overcome them. From Beebe, to Cousteau, to Haas, to Earle, and on, we see towering figures turn into whimpering addicts, wanton creatures craving to jump into the water. In short: Beware the magnetism of the sea. You are powerless against its pull.
After the history lesson, Hanna and Mustard take readers on a mesmerizing journey through the marine world, discussing everything from infinitesimal coral polyps to gigantic whale sharks. The pair also devotes a chapter to freediving and explains how bubble blowers can learn something from this subset of underwater explorers. Moreover—and more interesting—Hanna and Mustard light for their readers some literary incense and delve into the soothing, mystical aspects of diving. Emphasizing the importance of the emotional, visceral experience of a dive (as opposed to the mundane, rational traversal of a reef), Hanna and Mustard explain why diving is so powerful. It’s not merely pretty down there. It’s more than just relaxing. It’s in our blood, folks. For stoic divers who have long refused that diving can be a life-changing, soul-softening experience, Hanna and Mustard have outed you; the game is up. For those divers who want to nurture the ego-shedding side of the sport, rejoice! Hanna and Mustard provide plenty of tips on how to connect directly to the spiritual and playful side of your self.
Just as intriguing as the text, of course, are Mustard’s indelible images. Evocative, colorful, and interpretive, Mustard’s photos sparkle with something special. Mustard’s entire collection of pictures—which are pleasantly greater than the sum of the individual images—delivers a powerful message: the underwater world is beautiful, dynamic, alive, worth protecting—and certainly worth visiting. Although he presents many stunning images of marine life, what sets the images in this book apart is that many of them have people as their subjects. In this way, Mustard cleverly reminds us that the joy of diving isn’t just about the pleasure of seeing marine life. Rather, diving is an experience that we, as humans, are an integral part of: we are fully, directly engaged in this extraordinary sensory endeavor. Of course, we’ve all read that Cousteau said, “Buoyed by water, he can fly in any direction – up, down, sideways – by merely flipping his hand. Underwater man becomes an archangel.” Amusingly, Mustard subverts Cousteau when he half-jokingly says: “Cousteau was wrong. Underwater man becomes a big kid.” In fact, Mustard’s joke rings true and his fanciful images remind us that diving—while often a time for quiet introspection—is supposed to be fun, too. And his images are delightful. From the shots of divers walking underwater, to the images of divers flying like mantas along a coral outcropping, Mustard reminds us that much of the fun of diving is, well, diving.
Underwater shooters picking up this book will be thrilled for two important reasons. First, Hanna and Mustard provide plenty of tips for getting more out of the underwater realm. While the suggestions might seem obvious at first—Slow down. Hang out. Ask locals.—if you’ve forgotten some of these chestnuts, The Art of Diving will reinforce them. The result: better pictures. Second, in (my favorite chapter) The Art of Fish Watching, Hanna and Mustard provide numerous tips on how to find the fish you want to shoot; what kinds of behavior happens where; and what time of day (and year) you should look for the fish you’re hunting. Guess what? Not all those fish you thought were fighting were actually fighting. They might’ve been on a spawning rise, and Hanna and Mustard will help you distinguish between pugilism and passion.
Finally, one of the things I found most interesting about the book…isn’t in the book at all. People who purchase The Art of Diving are provided a code that unlocks the Members Area of TheArtofDiving.com. Offering behind-the-scenes access to the making of the book, technical details about each and every image in the book, and plenty of photo tips to help you create your own sizzling shots, the careful student can learn a lot. We’re fortunate Mustard is so willing to share his knowledge. For the cost of the book, readers get an entire online tutorial. The book is worth the price of these tips alone!
The Art of Diving is available through Amazon.co.uk for £13. The perfect coffee table book, and the perfect justification for why you simply must go diving this weekend, pick up a copy for yourself and you’ll see that The Art of Diving is the most magical, most beautiful, most insightful book ever written about scuba diving.
UPDATE: The Art of Diving is also available in German.