The world is a stage
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Unique underwater exhibit

© Andreas Franke

Photographer Andreas Franke exhibits his extraordinary photos underwater at a depth of 30 meters. PLEXIGLAS® makes this possible.

Underwater photography is an art form in itself. Exhibiting photos underwater, however, is a challenge. Andreas Franke is the first artist to turn this challenge into something tangible – with the help of PLEXIGLAS® which serves as a glazing and protects his works of art from seawater and fading.

“Breathing life back into a shipwreck”

Anyone who has gone snorkeling and swum amongst dazzling, multi-colored fish is well aware of the fascination of the mysterious underwater world. Photographer Andreas Franke is at home in this world, as the Austrian is an avid diver. It was a fortunate turn of events that he took his cameras with him while diving to the wreck of the “Baron Gautsch” in Croatia nearly 15 years ago.

The former passenger ship has been lying on the bottom of the sea for more than 100 years, and the wood it was built from has long since rotted. However, Franke saw more than what had perished: “I thought of breathing new life into the shipwreck and using it like a stage.” Back in Vienna, he integrated the photographically staged image of a woman into the underwater photos – thus marking the prototype for his “The Sinking World” exhibition.

A vision becomes reality

The “Vandenberg Project” was the diving photographer’s means of turning his vision into reality: The former warship, “USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg” was deliberately sunk in 2009 near the Florida Keys and the wreck now rests at a depth of 30 meters. It is the second-largest artificial reef in the world and home to countless sea dwellers – and is an impressive setting for Franke’s work. He integrates elaborately staged everyday scenes from different periods into the photographs of the shipwreck. For example, on the deck of the sunken ship, a young girl chases a shoal of fish with a butterfly net; ballerinas practice along the railing; an exhausted worker spoons his soup on a staircase. His art melds two layers of images into an ethereal, dreamy scenarios.

Yet, “Vandenberg” is not only the setting for Franke’s art, it is also the exhibition location. “After I had completed six or seven motifs, I thought just how spectacular it would be to hang my pictures down there,” Franke explained. He tenaciously pursued this idea of an underwater gallery and ultimately found the right partner in the person responsible for the wreck of the “Vandenberg”.

“The Sinking World” of Andreas Franke

Source: YouTube / Andreas Franke

How do you hang pictures underwater?

The artist’s vision was therefore on the cusp of becoming a reality, but he now faced the major challenge of hanging his pictures underwater without damaging them. No one had done this before him. “I needed a waterproof option which would provide stability for the images and protect them against yellowing,” Franke explained.

The solution comes in form of a “sandwich” of two PLEXIGLAS® sheets – a white one at the back and a transparent one at the front, made of PLEXIGLAS® GS 0F00 GT – into which the pictures are placed using a silicone adhesive. The entire work of art is then glued into a stainless steel frame with silicone. Strong magnets are subsequently used to affix the pictures to the shipwreck’s metal hull.

PLEXIGLAS® is the perfect backing material

Applications for PLEXIGLAS® as a picture glazing extend far beyond the use underwater. Thanks to the UV resistance of its material, the brand acrylic glass from Röhm protects pictures from fading – while the transparency is not impaired for many decades because the material itself does not yellow. “PLEXIGLAS® is very clear and shows everything in its true colors and vibrancy,” says Franke. It is therefore the perfect material for his underwater pictures.

When lowering the pictures into the water, he does not seal the joints between the sheets. “This ensures a minimal amount of water can enter, making the motifs even more unusual, picturesque and poetic,” the photographer explained. The artist also allows his art to mature underwater and does so by relying on the ocean as a designer. Over the months where the images are submerged, a patina of sediment turns each image into something completely unique. Once the exhibits are back on land, Franke preserves the deposits with an acrylic coating.

Reviving a Sunken World

Andreas Franke photographs shipwrecks and later integrates elaborately staged everyday scenes into his pictures.

© Andreas Franke

Magical Underwater World

Franke’s photographic art breathes new life into sunken ships, as seen here in “Sarah” from the “Vandenburg” series.

© Andreas Franke

The Ocean’s Patina

Andreas Franke mounts his photographs between two panels made of PLEXIGLAS®. The material is highly transparent and protects the colors from fading underwater. The ocean puts the finishing touches on the pictures and makes each one truly unique. Franke deliberately does not seal the joints to allow for a small amount of seawater to penetrate. Sediment deposits on the surface are later preserved by the artist.

© Andreas Franke

Generating attention through art

Franke’s current motifs represent a break from his original photographic concept. His “Plastic Ocean” series was dedicated to a topic that is very dear to him: the increasing pollution of the oceans with plastic waste. But he intentionally avoids any shock effects.

Rather, his motifs impress observers with their disturbing aesthetics: Immaculately beautiful women and children float in water, surrounded by artfully arranged, colorfully dazzling plastic waste. “We have learned to look the other way when such topics come up. I did not want to come crashing in wielding a sledgehammer, rather I want to give the observer time to confront themselves with the situation,” the artist said.

PLEXIGLAS® is a sustainable plastic

The fact that PLEXIGLAS®, a glazing made of plastic, is used in the project is not a contradiction. “This is not a plastic bag that serves no purpose and is used for no more than an average of 16 minutes. It is a durable material that also provides me with the opportunity of generating public interest in this key topic.”

Due to its longevity and weather-resistance, PLEXIGLAS® is a sustainable plastic that is also used for windows and viewing domes in submarines, for example. Because it allows for an undistorted view of the underwater world and withstands the tremendous pressure of the deep sea, PLEXIGLAS® has made valuable contributions to many oceanic research projects, for example during the expedition by the research couple Kirsten and Joachim Jakobsen in the submarine LULA1000.

Incidentally, you don’t necessarily have to dive to be amazed by Andreas Franke’s fascinating underwater world. He also exhibits his art in galleries on terra firma.

Beautiful and Horrible

Franke uses his “Plastic Ocean” series to draw attention to the pollution of the oceans with plastic waste.

© Andreas Franke

Before Sinking

The “Plastic Ocean” picture series is ready and waiting to be dropped down to the wreck of the “Vandenberg” off the coast of Florida.

© Andreas Franke

Underwater Gallery

Divers admire the spectacular exhibit at the wreck of the “Vandenberg” at a depth of 30 meters.

© Andreas Franke

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