An underwater photography exhibit, appropriately called Under, will be on display from Saturday, January 8th, to Thursday, January 27th, at the Venice Arts Gallery, 1809 Lincoln Blvd., Venice

Under will feature the underwater photography of two Venice locals, Marta Evry and Larry Naylor.

Under features a wide array of entrancing, exotic and vibrantly colorful marine life.

Evry has taken underwater photographs in a number of areas in the Pacific Rim, including off the shore of New Zealand, Fiji, and Hawaii, but most of her photography centers on local Southern California dive sites.

These sites include the Channel Islands and oil rig platforms off Huntington Beach.

Many of the photographs Naylor will be exhibiting were taken while he was diving with wild dolphins in the Bahamas.

Evry says that each dive provides new and unique visuals and is a distinct experience.

“One dive it could be mating nudibranchs (sea slugs), another, it could be a single eagle ray emerging from the deep blue like a ghost,” says Evry.

She recalls her first dive into a kelp forest, off the coast of Catalina Island:

“When I took my first giant stride into a kelp forest, hyperventilating with stress, I opened my eyes underwater and hanging upside down, saw a Spanish shawl (a neon purple shell-less snail about an inch long),” she says. “As I watched this otherworldly creature slowly sway in the surge, I suddenly forgot to be afraid.

“My breathing slowed and eventually I found I was enjoying myself.”

“If I’m lucky, I have a camera with me at the time to record the experience,” she says. “If I’m luckier still, the combination of light, timing, and subject will come together to produce an image I can share with others.”

Evry says that oftentimes during a dive, she is struck with a “sense of awe and wonder so overpowering” she sometimes has to remind herself to breathe.

She says that one of the most beautiful and unusual dive sites she has visited is the oil rig platforms off Huntington Beach.

“You wouldn’t know to look at them from the shore, but the infrastructure supporting the platforms — some of them in water as deep as 700 feet — contains the most beautiful and diverse ecosystems in California,” says Evry.

She describes the oil rig platforms as acting like “giant catcher’s mitts” intercepting larvae, eggs, and all sorts of marine life.

The larvae and eggs thrive in the nutrient-rich currents that flow through the rigs.

“The result is an underwater Disneyland literally crawling with life,” she says.

Evry says that these platforms are protected by law and have become de facto marine preserves for many species of endangered rockfish, invertebrates and pelagic sea life.

“Unfortunately, many of these oil platforms will be dismantled when they run dry. A bill to preserve the rig infrastructures 60 feet below the waterline was vetoed by Governor Gray Davis in 2001,” she says.

One of her oddest diving experiences occurred a couple years ago off the coast of Catalina.

“A harbor seal suddenly turned and swam right up to me,” she says. “Before I could do anything, it enveloped me in its huge clawed flippers. And then it started delicately picking at my hood. It did this for a good minute.

“Despite the fact I was literally in the grip of a wild animal three times my size, I never felt afraid. Finally, it let go and swam off.

“Later I learned that he may have just been really horny.

“So my harbor seal friend was just a lonely guy looking for a date.”

Evry — who makes her living as a film editor — explains what’s involved in underwater photography.

“You have to prepare for anything and be ready to react very quickly,” she says. “You also have to be extremely patient and be willing to stalk your prey.”

Although Evry regards the process of photographing the marine environment as “trophy hunting,” she believes that her photography rewards her with much more than a great photograph.

“If I’m lucky I can bring home images to share with others — images that might open people’s eyes to what’s in their backyard,” she says. “Hopefully I can even move people to want to preserve the wonderful marine environment we have here in Southern California.”

There will be an opening reception for Under at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, January 8th at the Venice Arts Gallery.

Admission to the reception, as well as viewing of the exhibit, is free and open to the public.

Information, (310) 822-8533.

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