In the wake of Covid-19, the closing of beaches, social distancing, mask shaming and probably watching too much Netflix, here is a fresh feast for your eyes and soul. Did you know that a world traveled, self taught, foremost underwater photographer has been making waves with his unique style for over 20 years, right in our own neighborhood?
I am sure you have passed the charming little GUG Gallery on East Commercial Blvd. and wondered what was inside, or maybe even planned to stop in one day. Well if you have not made the time, make it now. Because inside you will find some of the most colorful, interesting, awe inspiring and fun underwater photography to grace human sight. With thousands of pictures and growing, there is no better time than the present to see them all.
Chris Gug (pronounced Goog) has had a camera in his hand since he was a teenager. But at 15 he became a certified diver and decided to follow his passion deeper by making a one week trip to the Bahamas to try his skills at underwater photography. Even though he had no formal training, he was hooked on the ocean and images he saw. Over the last 20 plus years his photo techniques developed through thousands of shoots and hours of “doing” it. Through sunburns, seasickness, close encounters with sharks, scurmishes with poisonous sea life, being dragged by undertows and across coral jagged reefs, Chris Gug has become one of the most well known underwater photographers in the world, and if you look in his gallery or on his website you will see why.
An avid diver, photographer, and advocate for the environment, Chris Gug currently has eight different collections, and a plethora of images above and below the ocean to show his experience. The “Flocean” collection portrays tranquil sherbet skies that flow across the canvas like water itself. While the “Americana” collection has amazing split shots above and below the water line. The “Aliens” collection captures microscopic and deep sea life that many have never seen before. But for those surfers at heart, the “Endless Summer” collection will bring you face first into the waves, and the water crashing shots are captivating. But, if you like many adore animals of all kinds, “Fish Faces” will delight you with images of Elephants, Flamingos, Pigs, Manatee, Sea Turtles and other sea life frolicking in the water or just enjoying a peaceful moment.
When asked how his shots are created, he said:
“It starts with an idea in a sketch book. 90% of my photos are planned. Once I have the idea of what I want, I keep the image and dive until I find it. It could take five weeks or five years till I find it, and then that shoot could take 2-12 hours. In the meantime doing my underwater exploration and shoots for other things. I don’t need a fish to create something beautiful, just water. But I like to take advantage of the variables.”
His art has taken him to over 50 different countries, including living in the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos and New Guinea for years at a time, finding new sea life and capturing it with his lens to share with the world. When asked what he likes most and least about his profession, the answers were surprising and candid.
“What I like most is being with marine life one on one in their environment. Whats hard about this type of work is many people don’t understand it. They may say ‘Have fun out there!’, not realizing this is a job that sometimes lasts 20 hours a day, and literally takes blood, sweat, and tears to accomplish. Many times I miss the typical social interactions others have with friends, because I am working. Sometimes I am away for a month at time, doing dives and shoots. Sometimes I push myself to the extremes of my own limits, and even though I take hundreds of shots, there is only one that I will want to use. I love what I do, but its not easy work. I don’t watch much TV, but I do watch the surf and weather forecasts. Usually when surfers are sad about calm seas, I’m happy, and look forward to shooting.”
Luckily Gug has a partner that understands. He met his wife Suzanne on an underwater shoot, and was impressed with her ability and experience. The two have continued to work together, and years later are now married and living off Fort Lauderdale beach, where they can visit the oceans bounty anytime.
“I am not a scuba diver, I am a person that takes pictures underwater,” says Chris. “I never planned this to be a business. I just like to talk to fish, and I want to continue doing so for as long as I can. I hope to see new places such as Alaska’s Glacier Bay, Greenland, and Antartica for more ice shots in the future. I never know what may come my way. Sometimes I just see an article that inspires me to do research and work towards shooting it, and there is a story to every photo I take.”
One of the great things about Chris Gug is that although he considers himself antisocial, he is charismatic about talking about his work and the stories behind it.
When I asked what he would like to say to the younger generation, or other aspiring creative people, it was this:
“The worst thing you can tell someone is that they can’t do something, especially if it’s a creative endeavor. But for the generations behind me, it’s going to be your job to fix what we messed up with the environment. It’s imperative, and we have wasted time talking about it, and not making the changes that need to happen to save our oceans and planet.”
Gug also gives presentations on his work and the environment to school kids to inspire them in these fields.
“What you do with your time is up to you, but don’t waste it. What one person finds mundane may be the thrill of my Wednesday. I enjoy what I do and am grateful that I can bring my passion to others through my work”.
To learn more about Chris Gug and the work he and his team do, go to Gugunderwater.com. You will not be disappointed.
Kim is a South Florida native with a background in Non-Profit work, Special Events, Public Speaking, Community Outreach, and Development. Oakland Park has been her home for 20 years. She is a creative catalyst who enjoys creating win-win relationships on whatever project she puts her mind to. She is involved in Animal Rescue, Art events, C.E.R.T., and an American Red Cross volunteer. In her spare time, she does photography, writing and the outdoors.