Exploration, for me, means going someplace and seeing something new − but for me and my wife, Jennifer Hayes, it involves coming back with an image that opens people’s eyes to the sea − that’s what exploration is. We live on a planet that is mostly water, which means there is an alternative world that is entirely beautiful and incredibly complex. It’s a world where you are weightless, and you can dream, but the dreams you see are real.
When I started diving, every dive was a voyage of discovery. Now, we are documenting a time and a place and an ocean that is rapidly changing. This is where photography comes in: to open people’s eyes to the beauty of the ocean, and the fact that the ocean is the engine of our planet.
My fascination started when I was eight years old at a summer camp in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. I put on a mask, I went beneath the water in a tiny little lake, and my life changed. I saw shafts of green light with small fish swimming through… I still remember it to this day.
I grew up in New York City, not exactly the hotbed of underwater photography, but I dreamed of being a National Geographic photographer. Working for National Geographic is the single best window into the world, and after 70 stories, I’ve seen an enormous part of our underwater world, and that has given me a perspective on life that is priceless.
The most important tools for taking underwater photos are curiosity, insatiable curiosity, and, of course, light. Then equipment, which is not just the underwater housing, but the watch itself, the Rolex.
I bought my first Rolex when I was 16 and a Rolex has been with me for an entire career at National Geographic. I remember Captain Jacques Cousteau wearing a Rolex and Luis Marden, my hero at National Geographic, wearing a Rolex. When I bought my first Rolex it was a time and a place that marked my life. I was a diver working at a marine lab and I needed a watch. The watch I had before constantly flooded, it was like an aquarium! It never worked. Rolex was the underwater watch, and this was 1962. I couldn’t afford to buy the watch and the band, and I asked, “Can I just buy the watch?” And they said, “Yes!” They sold me the watch, and they sold me a rubber band. And two years later, I could afford the bracelet. The Rolex has been on my wrist now for 56 years.
We live in a battery-powered world, but under water, a mechanical watch is my parachute. I’ve had computers fail, but the Rolex hasn’t. It has kept time. Just recently, I’ve had a computer go down on a 150-foot dive on air towards a newly discovered Japanese airplane wreck in the Philippines. The Computer died, the watch kept working.
The Rolex I’m wearing now is a Deepsea and it’s as important to me now as that very first Rolex. It’s a watch that has all sorts of history within it. I would never dive without my Rolex. Time underwater is very precious, sometimes more precious than light, sometimes as precious as air. It’s an entire day condensed into minutes and seconds. It has to be totally accurate. Your life depends on this watch.
This watch is completely full of indelible memories. We’ve seen destruction and change, and we’ve seen hope. I think the idea of taking a Rolex, an extraordinary piece of mechanical technology, into the real world, the toughest world: the deepest of seas, the coldest of seas, the highest of mountains, is a tradition and a commitment that Rolex has always had. For me, swimming with Rolex in the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean or the warm tropical seas of Papua New Guinea, these are the places that time needs to go to − and Rolex is there.