Searching for the mysterious, Jeffrey Rotman has explored virtually every ocean and sea in the world, from Japan to the Galapagos, Borneo to Australia, the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, Mexico to British Columbia and the Atlantic coast of the U.S. to the Pacific.
The BBC has heralded him as one of the best underwater wildlife photographers. Publishing companies can’t get enough of his colorful imagery for their books. But the New Jersey native would rather be left alone miles under sea level. Far away from any spotlight on dry land.
Right now the award-winning underwater snapper is taking a breather above the water in France. This summer Abrams published “Underwater Eden: 365 Days,” his 11th book. In the same vein as other 365 Day publications, each of the book’s 365 color photographs features different underwater locations around the globe with extended captions written by Rotman that contain scientific facts and trivia, interspersed with anecdotes and insights he has gained from his 35 years of diving.
“I knew that nothing could adequately prepare me for the wonder that awaited me—not the stories I had heard, not the film on a giant screen, not even the expectation of surprise,” writes Rotman in the introduction. “Jittery with excitement and anticipation I dove into the cold water…”
Underwater Eden is an underwater tour of this other world that we, as humans, know so little about. In fact, it is widely known that we know much more about other planets than we do about this part of ours.
The breathtaking photographs look fanciful and surreal—they educate the readers about species that many have never seen and are shocked to know exist. Many are bizarre creatures like the spiny dogfish that flourish in the Hodgkins Cove in Gloucester, Massachusetts and bat stars under California’s San Clemente Island. But Rotman doesn’t stay close to home for long. The work focuses on coral reefs such as the one found in Shallow Cave at Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
One of the most popular diving destinations in the world, Ras Mohammed, an Egyptian national park off the southern tip of the Peninsula is a 75,000-year-old coral reef.
“Nearly 1,000 species of fish dart in and among the underwater plateaus and caves,” he writes. “For divers, the light in caves like this one, with an opening through the reef table, can be almost magical.” Rotman also invites us to swim with him through the waters off the Coast of Costa Rica, the Great Barrier Reef, the Red Sea and the Palia Islands of New Guinea.
Rotman, born in Boston in 1949, is a member of an elite group of the best underwater photographers in the world. He stands out as an artist because he’s taken the time to be a naturalist too, enabling him to offer his unique knowledge of ocean life and produce photo/text packages to clients. His numerous books include seven children's books on underwater topics and a large-format one on sharks.
From stories on the medical benefits of ocean slime and sponges to the ballet of mantas and the divers looking to commune with them in Baja, California, his articles/photographs regularly appear in prominent magazines such as Life, Time, Newsweek, Smithsonian, The New York Times, Geo, Stern, Paris Match and Le Figaro.
Using 35 mm and 70 mm film, macro photography is one of his specialties. Macro refers to photography of a subject where the image is recorded at the same size as the actual object or larger than actual size. One can see the obvious benefits of this when capturing sharks and other creatures that create a climate of fear.
Besides books and magazines, Rotman produces work for calendars, posters, advertising, annual reports, and greeting cards and has a large stock image archive available.
While “Underwater Eden” celebrates the beauty of the unknown below, it also mourns for the environmental changes these waters have been slowly enduring. In many instances Rotman cites the effects of global warming. It increases levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, raising sea temperatures and bleaching corals. In some cases it has killed off entire reef systems, he says. Sharks, another of his creature fascinations, are also prey to environmental denigration.
“When I return to photograph places visited years before, I see with great sorrow that they are slowly fading and even disappearing before my eyes,” he writes.