Scandi noir

I CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OF IT. The scene is subdued, the muted colours almost monochrome. The leading characters appear fleetingly. Their expression betrays little. Their outfit is familiar, yet distinctive to the point of iconic.

The pictures show that something both terrible and fascinating has occurred.

The stillness of each image belies an underlying act of violence. Transfixed, I hunger for the small clues on offer. It’s classic Scandi Noir.

But this is not Borgen. No chunky jumpers, just clunky old-school black rubber fins with steel spring straps, and the instantly recognisable snaking shape of rebreather breathing loops.

What has captured my attention is the work of Swedish technical divers exploring wrecks in the Baltic, at depth and mostly in darkness. Low light, low salinity and low water temperatures provide ideal conditions to leave these wrecks untouched and astonishingly well-preserved.

Their haunting images, published in Ghost Ships of the Baltic Sea, will steal your diver’s heart clean out of your chest in admiration.

The photos in this book are quietly brilliant, taken with the care and imagination of a crime-scene investigation.

Some focus on clearly recognisable objects and details – a key still poised in the lock of a fallen door, a pile of slowly decaying gold watches, a woman’s shoe.

My gaze deciphers the unspoken pointers before me. Images of the shallower wrecks still pick up the vaguely green hue of the ambient light. Gloom around the deeper wrecks almost threatens to consume them, as torches and camera strobes briefly reveal timbered forms.

From these photos I can almost touch the backscattered particles, know the weight of that depth and feel the deadening chill that sucks away energy – even through a heavy drysuit.

These are clever, carefully executed shots. The carved figurehead of a seahorse stares unblinkingly from the prow against the inky backdrop. A gnarled and ancient cannon protrudes through the square hatch of a gun-port, lit by the divers’ torches.

This is not IKEA’s cheerful “the wonderful everyday”. This is the totally gobsmacking. It’s once in a lifetime – if you’re lucky. Carl Douglas and Jonas Dahm, utomordentlig! Top job.

DIVER June 2021

IT’S INSPIRING TO SEE see divers uncovering these amazing but hidden wrecks. It shows the possibilities of technical diving; it wordlessly explains why some of us are willing to go through all the faff, discomfort and complexity.

The quantity of wrecks out there far exceeds the recorded number. How do we come to comprehend that void in understanding?

Much of the time those with the will to search for wrecks that might or might not be there are simply picking up anomalies on the seabed. Checking out different theories; trying to decipher the clues.

A wreck-shaped hole is our “dark matter”, something we hope and imagine might be there. Something that when found would make sense of all that we know, but haven’t yet been able to join up.

Our “dark energy” might be that mysterious, extra force of nature that enables some people to leap into the cold and dark, take a look and record what they find. If water is the Fourth Element, then technical diving is effectively the “Fifth Force”.