I’ve been photographing the San Marcos River from below or just above the surface for more than six years now. Most days, I confine my snorkeling to a short stretch of our river, a distance of just a city block or so. That’s well under a mile, and yet there’s more to see here than the mind can comprehend. The river is just that rich.
In part that’s because it’s hands-down the purest, clearest river in Texas. It is said that the quality of the water at its source is 3 to 10 times higher than EPA standards. Granted, that’s water as it gushes from the more than 200 springs that feed it, but even slightly downstream where I swim, visibility seldom drops below 100 percent.
This river is also fast, really fast. “CAUTION: STRONG CURRENT PRESENT,” reads the sign by the steps where I get in, “SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK.”
This speed makes trying to photograph plants or fish or turtles exceptionally hard, especially when those things are moving, too. That’s also why, when the time comes to download what I’ve shot, I’m pleased to find that anything at all has come out well.
Upon looking at some of my underwater photographs online, a friend commented, “A place that is so familiar is suddenly so different by just moving a couple of feet down.” I find that this is never so true as with my more abstract, more surrealistic shots. Who knew that light was capable of such tricks, or that shapes and colors could so confuse the eye? Where does water end and sky begin? Sometimes taking photos head-on, sometimes clicking as I tumble upside down, aiming at whatever shape or action catches my eye, I let instinct guide me, assuming that, in the end, something will emerge. My task—indeed, the task of anyone who seeks to make a record of life in motion—is to be ready, to look blindly into the chaos if need be, and, trusting that beauty lives there, to snap the shutter even as the current threatens to carry me away.