Feature: Diving with Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

Above: A diver holds out the subject to observe discrepancies in buoyancy | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Moe Lauchert is a professional commercial photographer whose growing client list includes the likes of Nikon, Henry Repeating Arms and Backcountry.com. Now a full-time photographer, Lauchert’s previous work experience includes being a dive instructor in the Cayman Islands and Diver at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) in Houston, Texas.

It was there at NASA’s NBL that he decided to embark upon a project that he had been planning for some time — to capture underwater photographs of astronauts and divers at work in the giant pool that serves as a venue for simulated Extravehicular activity (EVA) missions, also known as spacewalks.

DPReview spoke with Lauchert about how the project came to be, what tools were used, and what it took to capture astronauts preparing for upcoming missions. Below is a transcribed interview from the conversations and above is a gallery of images shared with permission from Lauchert.

You can find more of Moe Lauchert’s incredible work on his website and follow him on Instagram.

Why did you start this project and how did it come to fruition?

I was looking to get back into film. I’ve been flowing in and out of film since college and I wanted to do a fun project to get back into it, especially since I knew I was leaving the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory for a job in the creative field. So, I figured a good way to rework and re-experience that creative flow was to do this project, because the opportunity was readily available and an interesting subject matter.

In the final stages of the weigh-out, the diver will rotates the NASA crew member into more complex positions to observe their buoyancy | Photo by Moe Lauchert

I started it mainly as an opportunity to think creatively and critically about photography. So, a few factors played into that, particularly my desire to use film. I was thinking about what mediums would fit this and it just didn’t feel right to shoot with some high-polished DSLR, so film was an obvious choice, especially with NASA’s rich history of astronauts using Hasselblad cameras in the past. I wanted to shoot a day in the life of a divers, because most people don’t know NASA employs divers or what they even do, so this was a two-fold project to be creative and try to bring about this story of divers that most people don’t know exist, but are an incredibly important part of astronauts train-up period for EVAs (spacewalks).

I was thinking about what mediums would fit this and it just didn’t feel right to shoot with some high-polished DSLR, so film was an obvious choice, especially with NASA’s rich history of astronauts using Hasselblad cameras in the past.

The gear I decided to use was — well, money was a big factor, but limitations breed creativity. I didn’t have a lot of money to work with, or have a lot of experience with underwater film cameras, but after a lot of searching and researching I ended up landing with the Nikonos 5 film camera. It’s a 35mm film camera, developed by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Nikon. It’s a completely waterproof unit — no housing or anything.

Both NASA crew members and their divers (eight in total) continue work on the truss to complete their assigned tasks | Photo by Moe Lauchert

I used that with a 15mm underwater-specific lens (doesn’t focus above water) and an underwater eyepiece that helps reconcile being underwater and framing shot. I used Ilford HP5, which I ended up having to do some funky development with, as well as my regular dive gear. The reason for choosing the gear I did was sort of twofold: one, because underwater housing for digital is expensive and film — and the film look — is both nostalgic and ties in with NASA’s rich history with film. Overall, it fit the creative criteria for the shoot.

I was also influenced by the Nikonos Project. It was a wealth of knowledge as I was getting this project going.

What challenges did you come across during this project?

Shooting underwater during a suited operation. All photos were actually taken on my very last day as a diver. I couldn’t have them stop and do something again or get different lighting or anything like that. It was pure documentary photography. It was challenging, but also one of my favorite ways to shoot. If I miss my chance, it’s totally up to me to be prepared. And to be a diver on top of that, you can’t think about diving, you can’t worry about your dive skills when you’re trying to do this, so your abilities have to be pretty dialed in.

Another challenge is the pool — it’s 200ft long, 100ft wide and 40ft deep, so the lighting was very challenging. I had to get creative with how I developed the film. There was hardly any lighting and no strobes to work with, so the black and white film helped facilitate that. I had to get extremely creative with how I composed things and approached the tonality when it came to the divers and certain areas of the pool.

The Dive op team assist in the removal of the lo-fi APFR in exchange for a high fidelity version | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Another challenge was developing and scanning. I had very minimal experience developing film and zero experience scanning, so I was very hesitant to try. I did a lot of test rolls and at one point I even considered having it sent out, but I wanted to have the experience and have my hand in every step of the process, so I just had to gather up all the courage I had and develop the film in my tiny bathroom in my place in Houston. I mixed my own chemistry and everything. I lost 4 frames on the second roll because I was getting a little aggressive in my agitation, so a few negatives stuck together. Another challenge of the developing process was to just gather up the nerves to just do it, because nobody else has these negatives, so it was scary in that way.

I wanted to show the collaboration between the NASA crew members and the divers and show the symbiosis between the two, because without the help from one another there isn’t really a successful program.

The initial idea behind the project was to show a day in the life of a diver, but I also wanted to show more. I wanted to show the collaboration between the NASA crew members and the divers and show the symbiosis between the two, because without the help from one another there isn’t really a successful program. Even post-dive the astronauts would be asking the divers what they could be doing better and what the better path was during the walk.

On non-suited operation days divers maintain the pool and its various structures

I guess you could say the divers have the second-most EVA experience being they also have to know everything about the ISS, translation paths, tools, modules and everything that could be bolted, changed, replaced or moved. So you have these insanely smart and driven astronauts asking you for help and it just shows how collaborative that environment actually was. These astronauts have multiple PhDs, incredible amounts of life experiences, but they still manage to stow that ego and those accomplishments because without the collaboration it would be a lot harder to have success on these spacewalks. So to photograph and show that was awesome.

Final Thoughts

It hasn’t even sank in that this project even happened, because it was just a part of my life. It was like bringing my camera into work and taking photos of your coworkers and friends. The team down there is the most driven, interesting group of individuals and it makes for an incredible experience.


Editors note: This interview was transcribed and edited for clarity and brevity

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

Divers assist NASA crew members as they egress the airlock and begin translation to the worksite | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

Making their way down the main truss segment of the ISS, a NASA crew member is assisted by divers to ensure a smooth transition in simulated flight-like conditions | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

Both NASA crew members and their divers (eight in total) continue work on the truss to complete their assigned tasks | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

As the NASA crew members continue their objectives, the NBL divers monitor their condition as well as maintain the worksite while keeping constant vigilance | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

The NBL divers each have a specific job to monitor as the NASA crew members make their way to the worksite | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

A NASA crew member begins the first task of the suit operation | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

A diver assists a NASA crew member in attaching the articulating portable foot restrain (APFR) to SSRMS (The Arm) | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

The Dive op team assist in the removal of the lo-fi APFR in exchange for a high fidelity version | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

A NASA Crew member adjusts the APFR to a predetermined setting | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

NASA crew member and diver work together during a suited op. Shot from inside the Truss | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

Divers begin a preliminary check before suit operations can begin | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

Divers begin a preliminary check before suit operations can begin | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

Divers begin a preliminary check before suit operations can begin | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

Divers swim the NASA crew member over the truss to the downline for descent | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

Divers swim the NASA crew member over the truss to the downline for descent | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

A NASA crew member accompanied by divers navigates the downline for weigh-out | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

A diver begins the weigh-out process to achieve three-axis neutral buoyancy which simulates zero-gravity conditions | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

A diver begins the weigh-out process to achieve three-axis neutral buoyancy which simulates zero-gravity conditions | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

A diver holds out the subject to observe discrepancies in buoyancy | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

A diver holds out the subject to observe discrepancies in buoyancy | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

On non-suited operation days divers maintain the pool and it’s various structures | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

On non-suited operation days divers maintain the pool and it’s various structures | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

On non-suited operation days divers maintain the pool and it’s various structures | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

On non-suited operation days divers maintain the pool and it’s various structures | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

On non-suited operation days divers maintain the pool and it’s various structures | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

Even at 15mm and 101ft away the ISS mock up exceeds the frame | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Diving deep with a Ilford HP5 and a Nikonos 5 at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory

Over/Under shot post dive operations | Photo by Moe Lauchert

Original source: http://www.dpreview.com/photography/6255941916/feature-diving-deep-with-a-ilford-hp5-and-a-nikonos-5-at-nasa-s-neutral-buoyancy-laboratory

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