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Frontiers of Visibility

On Diving Mobility in Underwater Films (1920s to 1970s)

Franziska Torma

This article deals with the history of underwater film and the role that increased mobility plays in the exploration of nature. Drawing on research on the exploration of the ocean, it analyzes the production of popular images of the sea. The entry of humans into the depths of the oceans in the twentieth century did not revitalize myths of mermaids but rather retold oceanic myths in a modern fashion. Three stages stand out in this evolution of diving mobility. In the 1920s and 1930s, scenes of divers walking under water were the dominant motif. From the 1940s to the 1960s, use of autonomous diving equipment led to a modern incarnation of the “mermen“ myth. From the 1950s to the 1970s, cinematic technology was able to create visions of entire oceanic ecosystems. Underwater films contributed to the period of machine-age exploration in a very particular way: they made virtual voyages of the ocean possible and thus helped to shape the current understanding of the oceans as part of Planet Earth.