KETIKA MIKE BARTICK MENGHADIRI REUNI 40 TAHUN SEKOLAH MENENGAHNYA in a couple of years, he’ll have to explain how a Southern California kid ended up living mainly in the Philippines and becoming one of the world’s most innovative marine life photographers. His trajectory will be one of a kind for the class of ’85 — barely relatable, yet endlessly fascinating.
The story will be about his dad, a Navy sailor in World War II who moved from Detroit, Michigan, to Westminster, California, to be closer to the ocean. Trips in the family car to Huntington Beach as a kid instilled in Mike a calling to the sea. These were different, perhaps less dangerous times, but when he was only 8 years old he’d hop on the bus to Huntington, where he would body surf and swim. As he got a little older, his bike was his passport to beach adventure, and he would snorkel around Laguna Beach and boogie board at the iconic surf break known as the Wedge.
Dia terus mencari terumbu karang yang dilihatnya di dalam air. National Geographic, not knowing there was a difference between tropical and temperate habitats. When his family went to Hawai‘i for a summer vacation, he had his epiphany. Warm, clear waters were different — not necessarily better, as he loved his California backyard, but a world unlike what he knew. He tried to tell the tale with his Minolta Weathermatic 110 film camera to predictably miserable results.
Cousteau’s documentaries and Perburuan Laut were before his time, but books and magazines depicting the underwater world captured his attention. For no apparent reason that his parents could ever deduce, he often walked around the house making the sound of exhaust bubbles. Mike contends that “whatever it is, it’s always been there.”
Whatever “it” was evolved slowly. For 20 years Mike had a career as a chef. It was so stressful that his friends told him he needed to do something to take the edge off, and one of their suggestions was to go to Catalina and try diving. Once underwater, an aura of peace enveloped him. He started going to Shaw’s Cove in Laguna Beach every day after work. When he found his first nudibranch, he thought he had discovered a new species. While that was not the case, he describes the experience as his “gateway drug.”
Seeking like-minded enthusiasts, he joined a dive club and wanted to share underwater photos. The $10,000 Nikon RS he coveted was beyond his grasp, but a 3-megapixel Sony digital was attainable, so he got his first digital camera. It didn’t have any strobes, but he didn’t know what they were for anyway. One of his early shots was of a bat ray swimming through the kelp. He showed it to his friends on the boat, one of whom passed it on to Berita Menyelam California. Mereka menjalankannya, sehingga pada tahun 2004 ia menjadi seorang fotografer bawah air yang dipublikasikan.
In those early years, around 2005, Mike shot a lot of macro images. Captioning them meant improving his writing skills and researching more about his subjects. He started understanding that the best behavioral shots were from people who understood their subjects’ habits and habitats. To be a better photographer, he learned to be a better naturalist.
Saya mengenal Anda terutama karena pekerjaan Anda di Segitiga Terumbu Karang, khususnya di Filipina. Bagaimana transisi Anda ke sana dari California Selatan terjadi?
Pada tahun 2006, saya sudah terobsesi dengan fotografi, dan saya menghasilkan uang sebagai koki, sehingga saya mampu melakukan perjalanan ke tujuan menyelam yang baru dan eksotis untuk mempraktikkan keahlian saya. Saya pergi ke Indonesia, dan Lembeh adalah cinta pertama saya. Tempat itu adalah surga bagi penggemar makhluk hidup, dan pikiran itu menguasai saya bahwa suatu hari nanti saya bisa tinggal di tempat seperti itu dan memotret setiap hari.
Apakah Anda menemukan pasar untuk foto-foto yang Anda potret saat itu?
I had a good relationship with California Diving News, so I asked them if I could write a travel feature. Their editor told me, “We love your photography, but if you want to be a writer, you have to practice every day.” The writing was never as easy as photography, but I wrote every day and recognized that being able to package words and photos was important.
Tinggal selama sembilan bulan dalam setahun di Anilao, Filipina, dan menjadi mitra dan pengawas operasi di Crystal Blue Resort tampaknya jauh dari rekreasi menyelam di Lembeh.
I raved so much about how good Lembeh was that one of my friends told me to try Anilao for a change of pace. It was 2007, and there weren’t a lot of international divers going there yet, but it was remarkably accessible. The ease of travel was promising. Then I went diving and was blown away. The wide-angle and macro opportunities were off the charts!
My catering business in California was going well, but the more it grew, the more I was stressed and wanted to be underwater. Diving and photography were cathartic, and I kept coming back to Anilao in my mind. What if I could build a comfortable resort with a dedicated camera room, great food, and world-class guides, like the resorts I’d enjoyed in Lembeh? I wanted to create that kind of operation in the Philippines but needed the right ingredients to come together.
Pada tahun 2010, semuanya jatuh pada tempatnya. Departemen Pariwisata Filipina mengirim saya dalam sebuah perjalanan untuk menyelam ke seluruh negeri, di mana saya bertemu dengan pacar saya. Hubungan emosional dan profesional semakin berkembang, kemudian saya menemukan Crystal Blue, sebuah resor rekreasi yang sudah menawan dengan konsesi menyelam yang sederhana. Anilao adalah berlian yang sulit ditemukan, tetapi saya melihat potensinya.
Anilao is now known as a world-class dive destination, but I don’t remember that vibe from 2011. Were you involved in promoting it?
Yes, but kind of accidentally. I contacted a respected travel agent and told him what we were trying to do. He said Anilao was primarily known for “bad food, bad reefs, and bad air.” Clearly, we had some work to do if that was the perception. After we made some changes, our confidant sent a mystery shopper to the resort to evaluate our operation. The review was so glowing that we knew we were on the right track, and our business grew by word of mouth.
I’m guessing you aren’t still shooting that 3-megapixel Sony. What do you use these days?
I have the full-frame Nikon D850 and the cropped-sensor D500 and use whichever is best for the subject. I love shooting natural history, and I also began (as many of us do) with fish identification photos. But I wanted to go further toward an artistic execution, so I began to play with the lenses’ extremes and bokeh, variable shutter speeds, snoots, diopters, steel wool, and filtered lights. The underwater world of Anilao is an astonishing playground, and the diving was easy enough that I could experiment and improve.
You’ve shown the dive world a new universe of blackwater subjects from Anilao. How did it become the epicenter of blackwater diving?
Blackwater in Anilao started for me as bluewater in California. I was used to drifting in the open ocean and looking for subjects, so doing it at night seemed the next logical step. It wasn’t until I began seeing blackwater images from my buddy Gutsy Tuason that I got the real itch to do blackwater in Anilao.
In the beginning we would tie one end of a rope to the boat and the other end around a dive light and jump in. We explored every night, trying to find the best places and tinkering with our lights before we started to get results. Our first paper nautilus caught everyone’s eye, but the blanket octopuses, diamond squids, and settling wunderpuses are what put Anilao on the map.
Saya percaya bahwa saya harus membimbing para pemotret baru. Membantu mereka mengembangkan mata, keterampilan, dan pengetahuan mereka, termasuk pengetahuan tentang lautan, dan menyaksikan mereka melampaui apa yang mereka pikirkan, adalah salah satu bagian terbaik dalam hidup saya. Para mentor telah membantu saya dalam banyak hal, jadi saya merasa terdorong untuk memberikan kembali kepada banyak orang yang belum pernah mengalami air hitam atau mengetahui betapa nyata kehidupan laut itu.
One good blackwater dive, and you’ll be hooked. It’s incredibly addictive, and if you’re like me in the slightest, it will alter your sleep patterns in no time. You’ll be staying up late and drifting under the stars. I love shooting everything from wide angle to macro, but when it comes down to it, blackwater diving is the ultimate in underwater photography. I consider myself just a guy with a camera who is lucky enough to be doing what he loves the most. AD
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