The days of beautiful weather are back, along with the temptation to swim in the sea. Although perseverance is often needed to find a beach that is suitable for swimming along some parts of the Lebanese coast, the sea lovers’ will to highlight the richness hidden in the sea remains.
This is the kind of devotion that has driven Samer Halawani, at least since 2007, when he decided to combine his passions for photography and scuba diving. Halawani set out to capture the fauna and flora he encountered on his numerous whitewater trips.
‘Showing the beauty that the sea holds’
“It is important to recall that Lebanon has a beautiful coastline, among the richest in the Mediterranean Sea. But the accumulating pollution and waste caused the most beautiful creatures that could be seen a few years ago to gradually disappear,” said Halwani. “It is obvious that it makes us, as sea lovers, very unhappy to see our heritage deteriorating.”
“It is not too late, we can still clean up some areas and protect the species still present. But for that, we need a collective awareness and that is also my objective as a photographer: to show the beauty that the sea holds and to open the eyes of the whole world to the need to take care of our underwater wealth,” he added.
Making several expeditions to destinations ranging from Vietnam to the Caribbean, Halawani was equipped with state-of-the-art equipment to participate in competitions organized by the World Underwater Federation (CMAS). Pushed by Simon Khoury, world champion in water skiing and former president of the Arab Diving and Lifesaving Federation, the forty-year-old has been competing in international tournaments for five years, where he has often stood on the podium.
After placing third in the underwater photography competition of the Lebanon Water Festival (an annual event that has been promoting water sports in Lebanon since 2012), he won another bronze medal in Jordan in 2019 at the first ever Arab Championships for Underwater Photography. Canceled several times due to the outbreak of COVID-19, this competition finally took place in the Gulf of Aqaba this year. It was an event that Halawani obviously could not miss.
The theme of this edition was worth the detour. True to its ambition to promote the tourism sector and bring Aqaba’s name to the map of diving destinations in the Red Sea, in 2019 the Jordanian government inaugurated an unprecedented site in the region: an underwater military museum.
The project gave a second life to some 19 military vehicles that were too old to be used by the Hashemite Kingdom’s army and encouraged the formation of new marine ecosystems. Placed along the coral reefs, like “a tactical battle formation” according to the museum’s website, it offers the perfect leisure area for lovers of underwater photography.
‘I had to trust my eye’
The mission of the 16 participants in the competition was to showcase the military museum in the best way possible. After a first day dedicated to testing and scouting, Halawani set out, equipped with his Sony AR105 and his Isotta strobe with two flashes, to photograph the tanks of the underwater convoy.
In 60 minutes, watch in hand, he had to come out with the best possible shot, which was no easy task given the conditions.
“The light was very bad that day, there was very little sun and a lot of plankton as is often the case at this time of the year. So, I had to put aside what I had prepared and to trust my eyes to find the best angle,” the diver said.
After many attempts, Halawani finally opted for a wider shot than his competitors, preferring close-ups given the low visibility.
“I thought it would be a good way to stand out from the others. By asking the diver who accompanied me to stand just above the tank, I managed to emphasize its gigantic side and to have a good overall view. It’s in this photo that I got the most points,” he said.
Thanks to this photo, Halawani was awarded third place for the best ‘thematic photo’ category in the contest, after a Kuwaiti candidate, Rashed Almarshod and a Jordanian, Yazan Alsaed. Halawani ranked fourth place, after Egyptian national Amir Fayed, in the Macro (close-up) category.
“I am very happy with this medal. It is always a great pride to be rewarded for representing your country in an international competition,” said Halawani. “Now, I wish that Lebanon could soon organize its own underwater photography championship.” Hopefully this wish is not just a bottle thrown into the sea.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.
The days of beautiful weather are back, along with the temptation to swim in the sea. Although perseverance is often needed to find a beach that is suitable for swimming along some parts of the Lebanese coast, the sea lovers’ will to highlight the richness hidden in the sea remains.This is the kind of devotion that has driven Samer Halawani, at least since 2007, when he decided to combine his...