Mary Bess Johnson

As a young child, the cold, dank aquarium on Tacoma’s waterfront was Mary Bess favorite place. She would stare into the open-topped tanks dripping condensation onto the cement floor of the old high-ceilinged wooden building until her mother called her away. During childhood, she was fascinated by life forms they growing beneath the surface on floating docks or exposed when the water retreated from the beach at low tide. Scuba diving was not a sport for girls, so Mary Bess’s underwater exploration had to be postponed until adulthood. Then her brother loaned her one of the very first waterproof cameras developed for Jacques Cousteau, complete with an attachment for flash bulbs. 

When underwater cameras became more advanced, it was possible to make better pictures, and the newer strobes were much better than flash bulbs at revealing the ocean’s hidden colors that, without additional light, appear as shades of brown and gray. Mary Bess studied studio photography then took those techniques underwater to make portraits of creatures living there. She enjoys bringing back pictures from beneath the surface of the sea for those who cannot visit the ocean realm in person.