Waterlines: Confluence and Hope through Environmental Communication. The 15th biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE). June 17-21, 2019, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

The gin-clear waters of the Florida Keys: Regarding underwater life in amateur first-person documentary

Deborah James's picture
James, Deborah
Category of presentation: 
Scholarly papers

In a region once known for its gin-clear waters, the focus of this research is first-person action video filmed and shared by divers of the Great Florida Reef, the only living coral reef in the continental United States. Often dismissed as banal and narcissistic, this ‘cinema of me’ is a form worthy of our reconsideration as a multiple and popular expression of our human experience. Often sensory rather than narrative-driven, these immersive and embodied videos express human wonder and can garner more than a half million views, making anyone with the will to go diving a potential documentarian with the tools to make issues and experiences come alive for a global audience. This project expands on Donna Haraway’s notion of the cyborg. Here, the diver-as-cyborg’s multi-valent standpoint includes the SCUBA diver point-of-view composed of industry skills and training including environmental awareness and eco-centric behavior, and prosumer point-and-shoot video technology designed for seamless personal broadcasting. This research posits that the ocean is a place of history and story, and more than something to cross or a resource and therefore, contributes to our understanding of our relationship with this natural world in two ways. First, it uncovers how we might engage the history and practice of documentary to critically study the synergistic relationship between diver and ocean. Second, it expands our understanding of the emerging, embodied, realist visual style of first-person documentary and why it transports YouTube audiences to underwater places that divers experience directly.