Underwater photo gallery brings sunken ship to life

Updated 11:26 AM ET, Wed March 27, 2013
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It's not a ghostly apparition, but one of the photographs by Viennese artist Andreas Franke, which was displayed aboard sunken ship USNS General Hoyt S.Vandenberg and only accessible to competent divers. Courtsey Andreas Franke
After four months sitting at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the photos became discolored with salt stains and algae. "The sea life had created new images. It's very cool, they almost look like Polaroids," said Franke. Courtesy Andreas Franke
The pictures have now been displayed in a gallery on land; the Studios of Key West. "They're stunning photographs technically. But it also starts to veer into performance art," gallery director, Jed Dodd, said. Courtesy Andreas Franke
The 12 images all feature the Vandenberg, which was a U.S. military transport ship during World War Two. In the 1960s it was used by the Navy as a missile range vessel, and in 1998 it starred in the sci-fi film Virus. Courtesy Andreas Franke
Sunk in 2009, the Vandenberg is now the second-largest artificial reef in the world, boasting a diverse range of marine animals and plant life. Courtesy Andreas Franke
"If you're a diver and you see a gallery down there, it's absolutely unique, something you'd never expect. The cool thing is, the shots are done on the same boat they're hanging from," Franke said. Courtsey Andreas Franke
More than 10,000 divers visited the underwater gallery. "It's unique. Nobody has ever done a photography exhibition underwater before," said Dodd. Courtesy Andreas Franke
"One of the cool things with an underwater gallery is you're floating, so you can see the artworks from so many different angles," Franke said. Courtesy Andreas Franke
The Vandenberg's rich history gave Franke inspiration for his World War Two era scenes. A huge team of models, make-up artists and costume designers helped create the evocative photos in studio. Courtesy Andreas Franke
Despite being protected between two sheets of plexiglass and sealed with silicon in a steel frame, the images were not left completely untouched by the ocean. Courtesy Andreas Franke
"At the beginning we did one test on a smaller print and after two months it had no marks. But the bigger images were a little more flexible and more susceptible to water -- they're only 95% perfect but I'm still so happy with them," Franke said. Courtesy Andreas Franke
"What works so beautifully is how the water has seeped in -- it's almost as if the ocean has become a collaborative partner in the process," Dodd said. Courtesy Andreas Franke
"It's a huge empty ship with fish swimming around -- at 27 meters below the surface, the sunlight is this beautiful blue green color. I shot the models in the studio with the same lens, so the images matched," Franke said. Courtesy Andreas Franke
Franke went diving on the Vandenberg six times, taking more than 1,000 photographs which he then whittled down to the final 12. Courtesy Andreas Franke
"I used an underwater camera to shoot open locations where I thought I could add people in," Franke said. Courtsey Andreas Franke
"For a place like Key West, where you're never more than a few blocks from the beach, people have a very special relationship with the water," Dodd said. Courtesy Andreas Franke
Franke's latest project features 12 images on the sunken SS Stavronikita, off the coast of Barbados. Courtesy Andreas Franke
The artist was inspired by the Caribbean country's history as an English settlement and the abundance of coral. "The European style fits better with the yellow tones and growth," he said. Courtesy Andreas Franke