Michael DeCamp, American (1928 - 2013)

Michael DeCamp, American (1928 - 2013)

Michael deCamp's Photographs have an enigmatic quality which suggests the existence of an unknown dimension where shapes and colors interplay making things that have never existed before and will never exist again.

-- From an Article by Kristina Fione in New Jersey Monthly 2009 ---

De Camp’s friend Carlton Ray, curator of the New York Aquarium, was the closest thing he had to a scuba instructor. Ray took de Camp on his first dive in the Bahamas, where his only advice was, “don’t hold your breath.” One session was all it took and de Camp was hooked. Since he “couldn’t get to the Bahamas very often,” de Camp tried the Jersey shore.

De Camp, who grew up in Short Hills and lived in Morristown, eventually organized the state’s first dive trips out of Point Pleasant in the late 1950s. He also put together the first recreational dive to the Andrea Doria, just 10 years after she sunk. De Camp’s underwater photography caught the eye of Frank Mundus, the shark fisherman who is believed to be the inspiration for the character Quint in the movie Jaws. He asked de Camp to be the photographer and shark cage operator for his documentary In the World of Sharks.

When de Camp was not diving or teaching at the Peck School in Morristown, the Princeton graduate lectured across the country about shipwrecks.

Long retired to North Carolina, de Camp still dives—and has frequent flashbacks to times spent with shark fisherman Mundus. “North Carolina has a lot of wrecks with a lot of sharks,” de Camp says. “Last year I spent fifteen minutes just staring one down until he went away.”

--- From Princeton Alumni Weekly by Merrell Noden 2014 ---

Michael deCamp ’49 spent his boyhood summers at the Jersey shore, swimming in the surf and wondering what wonders might lie beneath it. He found out in 1954 when Carleton Ray, a friend who happened to be the director of the New York Aquarium, invited him to the Bahamas to try skin diving — something Ray was certain his athletic, ocean-loving friend would enjoy. DeCamp would spend the rest of his life quietly promoting the sport, both as a diver and as a photographer whose high-resolution shots of sunken ships earned him the title “the father of East Coast wreck diving.”

DeCamp dove down to tankers, freighters, German U-boats, submarines, and passenger liners like the Andrea Doria, to which DeCamp led the first recreational dive in 1966. In 1964, a few days after the Norwegian tanker Stolt Dagali went down 15 miles off the Jersey coast, deCamp followed an oil slick to locate the ship and recovered the only body to be found.

He was most proud of his expedition to Antarctica. Wearing only a quarter-inch-thick wetsuit while diving through a hole in ice so thick it had to be dynamited, deCamp spent several months swimming with Weddell seals and adding to his collection of photographs.

Those photos, which deCamp published along with essays in magazines like Skin Diver and Sports Illustrated, stirred the imaginations of young men like Chuck Zimmaro, who was a starry-eyed teenager when he first met his hero. “I compare Michael to [Civil War photographer] Mathew Brady,” says Zimmaro, a longtime scuba instructor. “There had been a lot of stuff written about the Civil War, but very few photos to bring those words to life. Like Brady, Mike brought a world to life. In a way, he was preserving underwater maritime history.” Shortly before his death deCamp donated his entire collection — some 250,000 slides — to the New Jersey Maritime Museum in Beach Haven.

Even as he continued diving and taking photos of the underwater world, deCamp gravitated to serious art photography, fashioning surreal landscapes in a form he called “sculptural photography.” That work, too, has been exhibited in shows all over the world.

“I don’t think there’s ever been anything like the works of Michael deCamp,” says Deborah Whitcraft, director of the New Jersey Maritime Museum. “He is like a king in the diving community — and always will be.”

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