Behind the lens: Mark Tipple

The Australian photographer documents the underwater dance between human and ocean.

It was a combination of accident and instinct that gave photographer Mark Tipple the inspiration for his ongoing photo series, The Underwater Project. “I was next to a swimmer while shooting surfing, and as a large wave broke in front of us I turned the camera on him to see what he went through while dealing with the wave above,” says Tipple. "Four years later I'm still completely fascinated — it's almost like the energy that created the waves is transferred to the swimmer for a fraction of a second." Observe that energy captured by Tipple's lens in the slideshow below.

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  • Drifter, Summer 2012

    Drifter, Summer 2012

    "Sydney's Eastern Beaches can be pretty intense when the weather comes out to play. During the third summer of shooting underwater, instead of running from the crowd for the relative safety of two or three swimmers, I followed the crowds. Underwater can be dangerous at times; I'm fighting my own fitness and breath hold ability and the open ocean's powerful swells. Add in flailing feet and arms of out of control swimmers and I can wear the full brunt of an underwater collision. Apart from a few swift kicks to the head and semi high-fives from body surfers, I was stoked on a few of the results. It's pretty cool to see how people adapt to the ocean when they're in a large group verses alone."

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  • Big Apple, Cook Islands

    Big Apple, Cook Islands

    "The first wave of the Cook Islands shoot, which was meant to be a ten day shoot in paradise but rapidly turned into a 45 minute shoot when Mike was dragged over the razor sharp coral upside-down and backwards. We traveled to the islands to raise the bar visually and to bring a more tropical feel to The Underwater Project, but nearly ended up documenting Mike's express ride into full body staph infection."

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  • Burning, Mare Vida

    Burning, Mare Vida

    "We traveled to the Cook Islands to shoot more of the Underwater Project series, but also trying to raise the bar somewhat. The shallow reefs are renowned for claiming skin from unlucky surfers, and after about an hour of the first day shooting Mike was dragged across the reef upside down and backwards, resulting in multiple lacerations and reef grazes. He called it quits straight away, returning to the village to receive lime juice treatment and hopefully kill off infection before it had a chance to set in. I found myself with no one to shoot with, so thought of a different way to capture the power and ferocity of the pacific ocean's swells. Mare Vida is the result, my portrait of the ocean."

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  • Summer, Summer 2011

    Summer, Summer 2011

    "I swear I could relive April 2011 every day/week/year and still be stoked. After a summer plagued by storms and clouds we were rewarded by fun swells and perfect weather for most of April, which brought the swimmers back to the beach.This particular day, the 11th of April, I woke to amazingly clear water and a good swell, not too big to keep away wary swimmers but big enough to capture the impact of people in the wrong place at the wrong time. I shot for six hours, actually playing it safe by not shooting too much and filling up my camera's memory card too quickly. I returned home sunburned to a crisp with bleeding eyes as a reminder of the day, which made editing over 1,100 photos a challenge."

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  • Escape, Summer 2010

    Escape, Summer 2010

    "The first and my personal favorite image of The Underwater Project. After struggling to find what I wanted to shoot in the ocean for the better part of a decade, I was bored and daydreaming while shooting surfing and drifted down into the flags at the opposite end of the beach. Shoulder to shoulder with the swimmers, I noticed a larger wave about to break in front of us, meaning we'd all have to dive under. I thought about seeing what the swimmer next to me went through while the wave broke above him. Upon seeing the screen afterwards I knew I had finally found what I had been searching for all those years."

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  • Fight, Winter 2010

    Fight, Winter 2010

    "As the first and longest summer drew to a close I returned to shooting surfers, but mainly those who shouldn't surf. I copped a load of abuse from the better surfers in the lineup for not being interested in their waves. I'd rather chase people who would be more susceptible to falling off so I could capture the moment they punched through the wave and be carried with it towards shore. The result was pretty graphic; the photos held even more vulnerability and helplessness than the contorted figures of the summer series. Shooting-wise it took a lot longer to capture the 10 or so images for the season, but after hanging onto cracks in the reef and dodging fiberglass for four months the weather broke and again, the swimmers returned."

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