Nathaniel Stern in Popular Mechanics - October, 2014

These Stunning Underwater Photos Were Taken With a Desktop Scanner

October 17, 2014 at 2:00:00 PM by Tim Newcomb for Popular Mechanics

Nathaniel Stern with his Underwater Scanner. Photo Credit: Emy Mazzola

Nathaniel Stern with his Underwater Scanner. Photo Credit: Emy Mazzola

Rippling Images is a fitting name for Nathaniel Stern’s latest works of art, and in more ways than one. The collection shows off 18 prints captured under the rippling water of a live coral reef near Kay Largo, Fla., and he made those images using a device known for rippling: a desktop scanner.

Stern has been known for more than a decade for his method of scanning landscapes. The inspiration for this aqueous art came when his brother-in-law suggested he take the idea under the sea. Stern says he designed 10 different subaqueous scanner systems, built five to completion, and took three with him underwater. The scanners used custom electronics, plus melted and welded Plexiglas, metal, towels, and even some duct tape to operate in the ocean.

"They leaked, they broke, and they captured things I never wanted and never intended," he says. But that's what you get with experimental work.

Using custom-made rigs and battery packs, Stern strapped the devices to his back or held them out in front as he swam to capture the beauty and color of the reef and the marine life that frolics nearby.

Nathaniel Stern, AQUEOUS, Digital Print on Metallic Paper, 5 x 7 3/4"

Nathaniel Stern, AQUEOUS, Digital Print on Metallic Paper, 5 x 7 3/4"

"My goal was an exhibition where site and technology—their limitations, possibilities, and potentials—take great agency in the constitution and construction of printed forms," he writes on his website. "I provoke thinking and feeling and movement that never would have came to me had I not worked beyond the scope of what was possible."

Stern’s images debuted during a July art fair in Johannesburg, South Africa. They now lead a solo Rippling Images show that will run from Oct. 17 through Nov. 15 in the Tory Folliard Gallery in Milwaukee, Wisc.—Stern’s hometown. A scan through the 18 prints can toss a ripple into what you thought possible from a nearly antiquated piece of electronics.