US underwater photographer Emory Kristof, whose extensive body of work included the iconic images of the Titanic captured after its discovery 38 years ago, has died at the age of 80.
Kristof created the preliminary designs of the Argo deep-sea vehicle’s electronic camera system, used on the Robert Ballard / Jean-Louis Michel expedition that located the deep wreck in 1985. He became known for his innovations in developing and using ROV and submersible cameras and lighting.
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In 1991 he spent some 50 hours on submersible dives on the Titanic to produce haunting images of the wreck with the help of a new high-intensity lighting system. It was the resulting IMAX film Titanica that inspired James Cameron to make his own movie about the sinking, with Kristof advising on the videography and lighting.
Born on 19 November, 1942 in Laurel, Maryland, Kristof developed a love of science, engineering and photography and – inspired by Jacques Cousteau’s The Silent World – scuba diving.
He graduated in journalism at the University of Maryland in 1964, and that year became a staff photographer for National Geographic, where he had been working as an intern.
“If I wanted to roam around the world and do all this neat stuff, Geographic was where the money was,” he told AquaCorps magazine in 1995. “Basically, I thought that having an unlimited American Express card and a six-pack of Nikons and all the film I could shoot – that wasn’t bad.”
For that investment the magazine expected the very highest-quality photo-journalism, and the fact that over the next 30 years Kristof produced some 40 articles, most of them recording major undersea expeditions, showed that he was well able to deliver.
His career began covering an archaeological dig for Viking artefacts in Newfoundland but he did his best to work undersea adventure into as many of his assignments as possible.
In 1977, for example, he took part in an expedition that discovered the deep volcanic vents of the Galapagos Rift, and he went on to write six features about the unusual marine-life that inhabited these hotwater phenomena.
He led photographic surveys of the 1864 Alabama wreck off northern France in 1992 and the following year dived the recently discovered 16th-century San Diego in the Philippines, both wrecks in the 50-60m range.
Many of Kristof’s expeditions were undertaken with Canadian explorers Joseph MacInnis and Phil Nuytten, including the exploration of the Breadalbane, the world’s northern-most known shipwreck, and a 1995 initiative that he led to recover the bell of the Edmund Fitzgerald, 160m deep in Lake Superior. This resulted in early high-definition TV deepwater images.
With MacInnis and Russian explorer Anatoly Sagalevich, Kristof took part in a 5km submersible descent into Kings Trough in the North Atlantic. He also conducted a Scottish expedition to investigate the existence of the Loch Ness Monster – “I think that assignment resulted in the most expensive picture of an eel ever produced,” he said later.
Kristof died on 6 February in Northfield, Massachusetts. Describing him as a legend of 21st-century ocean exploration, underwater photographer Michael AW said that the achievements of his “mentor, inspiration and hero… scale higher than Mount Everest and deeper than the Mariana Trench”.