“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.”
Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a seasoned scientist, researcher, and author in his own right. Simultaneously, he was an explorer, innovator, filmmaker, and impassioned conservationist. Although Cousteau and the average physicist may disagree on how to escape gravity (see above quote), his view of the sea inspired generations of curious minds to dive deeper.
In 1943, while a refugee in World War II Europe, Cousteau set out to direct and produce Par dix-huit mètres de fond (18 meters deep), the first French underwater documentary. Using a depth-pressure-proof camera case developed by mechanical engineer Léon Vèche, Cousteau and a colleague were able to capture rare footage of what life looked like below the ocean’s surface. That same year, he filmed Épaves (Shipwrecks) using two of the first Aqua-Lung prototypes, the same technology that enabled the development of the first SCUBA tanks. In 1956, his film Silent World required the assistance of Jean Mollard to develop a “diving saucer,” an experimental underwater vehicle that could reach a depth of 350 meters.
I’m most often drawn to people and ideas that straddle the threshold between science and art. Cousteau is a logical candidate. His body of work not only drove science and technology in terms of catalyzing undersea research, but it also brought the deep sea, an otherwise inaccessible world, to people through film. Though his nascent research may not taken him to the Verne-ian extent of 20,000 leagues below, Cousteau was certainly in a league all his own.