Those were the days (early days of BSoUP) part 2

by Colin Doeg

Reproduced from in focus 46. (Dec. 1992)

Colin continues his reminiscences of the beginnings of BSoUP, founded twenty-five years ago.

The early members of BSoUP used to tactfully describe themselves as mild eccentrics. This was about the only kindly term that could be found to describe a group of fiercely independently minded individuals who, among other things, had highly developed allergies to organised diving and especially to diving with other than photographic models or other underwater photographers.

The amazing thing is that they all got on so well together and that the organisation they created has both survived and thrived. Between them they represented a unique storehouse of technical knowledge and expertise. Most prominent among them – in alphabetic order and in no way suggesting that even one of them could ever be described as being the slightest bit unusual in any way whatsoever – were Tim Glover, Geoff Harwood and Peter Scoones.

They were as adept at making housings and installing cameras as they were at taken good pictures. Indeed, the most successful photographers in those early days were mainly the ones with the skills to make their own housings, develop special gizmo’s and also produce superb prints from their darkrooms.

Tim Glover

Tim Glover distinguished himself, among other things, for having the first flashgun flood. Now Tim’s flashgun was not one of your everyday, 1992 flashguns. All the necessary gubbins were housed in a Perspex tube that, from memory, was about 1ft or 1ft 6in in diameter and about 2ft long. It needed to be that size to house all the components because no-one had got round to miniaturising professional flashguns. The ensemble was fixed to a Rollei Marine outfit and tucked neatly over one shoulder when you were taking pictures.

Well, Tim was down at about 80ft in the Mediterranean when it happened. He glanced in the housing and saw it was flooding. The ocean was remorselessly approaching the electronics. As there was clearly insufficient time to surface before the housing flooded completely, Tim carefully put the outfit down and finned off to a respectable distance to watch whatever would transpire. Geoff joined him and the pair gazed in fascination as the sea crept up towards the vital components.

What would happen, they wondered. Would everything explode? Would they experience an electric shock? Would they survive? They knew not, because it hadn’t happened to anyone before. Almost as an anticlimax, the components drowned with grace and dignity. There were no blinding flashes of light or streams of sparks. The water didn’t boil. Blue sparks didn’t race around the sea bed. Indeed, the event was an anti-climax but it was a good tale for months afterwards.

Geoff Harwood

Geoff developed System Harwood – a camera housed in one Perspex box and looking out through a correction lens with another box containing a flashgun hinged onto it. Geoff put a small torch- head in the housing alongside the flashgun so its beam would show the centre of the area which would be illuminated.

He filed and ground the correction lens out of living perspex with nothing more than instinct and flair to guide him … plus a bit of trial and error. The result was that he was able to correct the effect of refraction. That’s when the rays of light bend as they go from air (as in a housing) into water. It meant that a 50mm or 35 mm lense would ‘see’ the same underwater as if it was in air rather than about a third less.

The torch meant he could focus his SLR camera on the pool of light. Then, when he bore down on a subject, he knew it would be pin sharp when the beam of light fell on it. It was a great system which worked well and helped Geoff, very deservedly, to win the title of British Underwater Photographer of the Year at the Brighton Film Festival.

Peter Scoones

Peter Scoones, of course, was a law unto himself. When everyone else was using ‘wet’ leads for their flashguns – more of that in another issue – he fired his gun with a ‘dry’ lead. Peter’s method was simple. He drilled a hole in the camera housing and another in the flashgun housing. Then he fed an electric lead from one to the other, sealing it with laboratory bungs. Yes, laboratory bungs!

It worked like a charm for Peter … you just had to remember to shove the bungs in a little harder as you went deeper. However, when he lent the outfit to someone else they managed to ‘drown’ everything which, from memory, was a Bronica S2a, 50mm lens and a small flashgun.

Peter was adept at making housings at a time when the only engineering facilities he had were the kitchen table and a hand- held Black and Decker drill. Heaven knows what the Health and Safety Inspectorate would have thought if they had had existed at that time, but Peter could mill parts to shape and route out grooves for O-rings with great precision and accuracy. He must have had strong arm muscles.

Peter’s housings – as ever – were brilliantly simple and original. During the very earliest years of BSoUP, for instance, he was experimenting with putting a Metz hammerhead flashgun and battery pack into a Perspex ‘suitcase’ which he could place in position and fire by means of a slave. To me, that seems to have been the forerunner to the floating housing he has devised for his underwater video work which gives him a freedom of operation unmatched by anyone else’s ideas.

Tim, Geoff and Peter were particularly unselfish in helping other underwater photographers make housings, etc and they were the driving force behind the production of the Society’s Data Book. But that will have to wait for another issue.

Reproduced from ‘in focus’ 46. Dec. 92 with kind permission of Colin Doeg.