Arts and Entertainment

Documenting the underwater world of Puget Sound

Williams diving in local waters above some of the creatures he
Williams diving in local waters above some of the creatures he's found, and photographed below: (from left) a sea urchin shot by Dan Hershman, a nudibranch shot by Williams and a tube worm shot by Hershman.
— image credit: Courtesy Photos/Still Hope Productions

Suquamish-based underwater filmmaker John F. Williams uses film to create awareness.

Underwater photographer John Williams doesn't count himself as a biologist, nor a filmmaker. But you wouldn't know it by his films.

Since the turn of the century, he's been filming underwater, capturing the creatures and underwater landscapes of Puget Sound for documentaries, and more recently a TV series that is shown on nearly 50 public access stations across the nation.

He's been diving for even longer. He's been a lifelong Jacques Cousteau fan.

"I started to notice when I'd dive, especially in urban settings, when I'd come up and would be walking across the parking lot in all my gear, I'd have people coming up and asking me, 'What did you see?'" Williams said. He'd unsuccessful try to describe scenery and found "I just wasn't good enough with words to describe what I was seeing."

Soon, however, he would find the perfect venue for explanation.

It came in the form of an epiphany one day on a dive with a colleague.

His colleague had brought along two cameras, one for still photography and a digital camcorder for video. Since she couldn’t shoot both at once, she handed Williams the video camcorder and they were off.

When he looked through the eye piece, he was struck with an “a-ha!”

“All of a sudden, I just had this spark of brilliance, this illumination of how I could show people what was underwater,” Williams said.

Through film.

“I actually started making movies not because I wanted to be a filmmaker, but because I was more of an activist, and I saw film as a tool,” he noted.

Prior to coming to the Northwest, Williams had spent years in Hawaii, working for the University of Hawaii as a software developer, creating a way to use sonar signals to map the ocean floor. He’d spent years at sea, and in nautical meetings and heard many stories from oceanic types and realized that there were an astonishing plethora of things happening in the ocean that the general public had no idea about.

People didn’t seem to care about what they could not see, and inturn they didn’t have any say in what was going on.

“All these things were going on in our ocean, both good and bad, that the public had no idea about,” he said.

When he found videography, he found a way to bring it to their attention.

So since the Year 2000, he’s been collecting footage for his documentary films and public access television series “SEA-Inside.”

It’s billed as “the only TV series about what’s beneath the surface of our Northwest waters” and it’s shown on nearly 50 public access television stations across the country (including BITV and BKAT here in Kitsap).

Even so, given that his programs were being shown on public access television stations, which typically don’t gather data on their viewers, Williams didn’t know how effectively his message was reaching the general public.

“I’ve never had any real measurement of that,” he said.

What he did have, and remains to have, is hope — evidenced by the name of his production company Still Hope Productions.

So he’s put together a tour of sorts, taking both his films and his knowledge to community centers around Puget Sound and spreading the word about what he’s trying to do.

Last month he held a session at Islandwood on Bainbridge Island. This month, he’ll be coming to Bremerton at 7 p.m. March 31 at the Norm Dicks Government Center, 345 6th St., then on to Seattle, Olympia and more.

“Believe it or not, I don’t think it’s something that people even stop to think about unless they’re prompted,” Williams said of the thought “what’s beneath the surface of Puget Sound.”

It’s an interesting facet of human nature that we tend to disregard that which we cannot see. In this case, it’s particularly interesting and could possibly be detrimental.

Which is why Williams is taking his films around, hoping to inspire community conversation.

“A stone’s throw from shore is a world that very few get to see, yet it is a major part of our neighborhood,” the press release for SEA-Inside reads.

JOHN F. WILLIAMS will bring his underwater footage from beneath Puget Sound to Bremerton at 7 p.m. March 31 at the Norm Dicks Goverment Center Chambers, 345 6th St. downtown for a tour of our underwater neighborhood along with discussion on what’s out there, why we should care, the issues facing our waterways and what we can do about it. Info: www.stillhopeproductions.com.

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