Underwater photographer, activist Annie Crawley exhibits at Foss Waterway Seaport

“Play,” by underwater photographer and oceans advocate Annie Crawley, is an image of a pair of sea lions playing with a chain of salps near the Channel lslands off the California coast. Photo credit: Annie Crawley

In addition to Mike Coots’ shark and surfing photos (see story on previous page), the Foss Waterway Seaport is also exhibiting a small selection of enlarged photographs by underwater photographer and ocean journalist Annie Crawley. Both Coots’ and Crawley’s pictures went up as part of Ocean Fest, which took place at the seaport on June 10. These exhibits, however, will remain on view to museum visitors through July 22.

Crawley’s exhibit is called “Our Oceans and You.” Many of Crawley’s photos are an activist’s documentation of stories from various trouble spots in the world’s oceans. “Refuse Single Use Plastic,” for example shows two small children on a beach that is littered with plastic bottles and other plastic trash, calling the viewer’s attention to the problem of plastics in the world’s oceans. Visitors are encouraged to take a “30-day challenge” to refuse single use plastic for a month.

“Team Work” shows members of the Lummi Nation helping to clean up a spill of Atlantic salmon that escaped from a fish farm and threaten the native wild fish population.

Two images taken off the Maldives show a healthy coral reef and a dead coral reef, the latter being the result of coral bleaching caused by the warming of the ocean.

Intermingled with these sobering images are more poetic scenes like a pair of sea lions at play under water, or a school of fish that have formed a cosmic, spherical shape. A magnificent mother humpback whale and her calf swim through rays of sub-aquatic light.

Annie Crawley. Photo credit: Annie Crawley

Perhaps the most informative thing about the exhibit is that it gives an address to Crawley’s voluminous and informative website. Originally from Chicago and trained as a photo and broadcast journalist, Crawley spent the past two decades living and working around the world. After learning to scuba dive and sail, she became a scuba diving Instructor. She specializes in the underwater realm as an underwater photographer, filmmaker, educator and ocean advocate.

The Foss Waterway Seaport is both the best and the worst venue for such an exhibit. Because of its dedication to Tacoma’s maritime history, the seaport is the perfect place for an exhibit that documents the plight of the oceans. However, there is so much to see in the museum that Crawley’s modest exhibit gets lost. The photos come across with the slickness of advertising material and are apt to be overlooked in lieu of more interesting things that call for attention. I had gone to the seaport with the express intention of viewing the photographs, but I ended up spending more time simply wandering about and admiring the beauty of the old wooden boats that are on display. Their graceful lines and the details of their construction are endlessly fascinating. 

There is also a whale skull whose size makes one fully cognizant of the size of these magnificent beings. Compared to the wonders inside the museum, Crawley’s pictures barely make a blip on the radar. They are somehow more impactful via Crawley’s website or in book form, when the viewer has time to sit and ruminate over them and their importance. Since the time of Jacques Cousteau, we have been so exposed to images of the rich strangeness of life in the sea that such images have lost the power to fascinate. The exhibit would be more powerful if Crawley edited out her virtuoso photos of the beauty of the sea and showed us the ugliness and the horror of the threats of ocean warming, acidification, exhaustion of fisheries, the dangers of contamination of native species and the problem of plastics and micro plastics. 

So, by all means go to the Foss Waterway Seaport. It is one of Tacoma’s lesser-known treasures. Have a look at Crawley’s images and take a card for later. Don’t expect to be bowled over by the Crawley exhibit, but do expect to be amazed by everything else inside the museum.

For more information, visit www.anniecrawley.com. For more on the Foss Waterway Seaport, visit www.fosswaterwayseaport.org.

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