Rico Besserdich, born in Germany in 1968, started with photography at the age of 10. After spending his youth wanting to become a professional photographer, in 1996 he got hooked to scuba diving during a vacation in Turkey and combined his love for the underwater world, with his photography – and followed his dream. For a decade Rico worked on his underwater photography, without ever being published. It was in 2010 that he got his breakthrough – conducting a fine art underwater photography exhibition that got him recognised in the photography world.
A cabinet full of awards later, he is now a well-respected underwater photographer and has been published countless times in international publications. Underwater360 caught up with him to discuss his life, career and favourite works:
What made you want to become an underwater photographer?
I started with photography when I was a 10 year old (in 1978). Although it was not my main job, photography was important to me. It still is. 20 years ago, in 1996, I got hooked by scuba diving and I wanted to become an underwater photographer for one simple reason: to combine two of my main passions. I actually have another passion which is music, and I am still working on how to bring it in.
Your first underwater shot?
The first “official” shot (with my own camera) was a photograph of a family of wild dolphins at a place called “Dolphin House” in the southern Red Sea. I used a simple Cullman Sharky analog compact camera and managed to flood it right in the first dive, but luckily I was able to rescue the film.
The story behind your most memorable underwater shot?
Although it isn’t my personal favourite shot, many people around the world know me for my underwater images of a sunken Douglas “Dakota” C-47 aircraft. So, somehow and to the public, this might be one of my most memorable shots.
The story behind: I dived that particular aircraft wreck over 70 times. But often, something went wrong or circumstances didn’t allow to take the shot that I wanted (visibility, place stuffed with other divers etc.). I was working as an instructor trainer at a dive centre in south Turkey and there came the day I had an assistant instructor trainee. I told the guy: “tomorrow we will dive the Dakota, you will just have a look around and I will shoot some pictures”. That was the day (dive no 76 at that wreck ) where everything worked. We were the only divers at the spot, the underwater visibility was okay and so was the time of the day we dived that spot. So, everything worked perfectly and I shot a series of around 15 images, six of them made it into international press and one of them was awarded by PADI to be one of the world’s five best wreck shots of the year 2013. Sometimes it simply needs a bit of luck!
Where is your favourite dive destination?
Love is where home is and therefore the Mediterranean Sea will be always my personal top destination. An easy to reach destination too as it takes me only a 10-minute walk to go there.
The site you’d most like to dive, but never have?
I would love to dive the Galapagos and if I may add a second spot of desire, South Africa (Sardine Run!) would be really cool, too.
The weirdest thing you’ve seen underwater?
The personal belongings of refugees in a shipwreck. That ship illegally carried refugees, and it sank in a storm more or less directly in front of the dive centre’s house-reef I was working at at that time. In respect to all the poor people who’ve died there I decided not to shoot any photographs.
What camera equipment are you currently using?
During the last years I was using a CANON 7D, an EASYDIVE “Leo 3” housing, Sea&Sea and Ikelite strobes and various CANON, TOKINA and SIGMA lenses. During my last photo projects I even switched back to my old CANON 40D in an Ikelite housing. I must confess: I am not really a technology freak. I do not even own a smartphone.
What is the highlight of your career?
To be hired by a fine arts university as a lecturer and workshop leader of artistic underwater photography. Two of my students made their Master of Arts Diploma with artworks that resulted out of my seminars given there. A huge step and a real highlight for someone who has only a secondary school degree and had to start to work for his living in the age of 16.
…And the lowpoint?
To witness some of my underwater photographs become incredibly famous without anyone knowing who made the s
hots. Images were stolen from me, my copyright notice erased in Photoshop and others grabbed the recognition that was supposed to be mine.
Is there any particular shot that you still want to get?
Yes. My personal number “42”, the final photographic answer to the meaning of life, universe and all the rest is a photograph that displays the meaning and spirit of our oceans in one minimalistic, Zen-style image. The spiritual core of water. Not less, not more. That might take me 150 years more but I am patient and I’ll keep on working!
For more of Rico’s work click HERE