The Underwater Project by Mark Tipple

All photos: Mark Tipple

Sick of the typical stock-like surf photography, Australian photographer Mark Tipple decides to change things up by focusing instead on the physical and emotional vulnerability of ocean swimmers.

"One day, I was caught inside by a big wave and as I dove underwater I suddenly thought I’d see what the kids next to me were going through – I turned the camera on them.”

The resulting image — titled “Escape" (above) — became the first installment of what the photographer now calls “The Underwater Project.”

Little did Tipple know that this quick shot would fundamentally transform his relationship to the ocean and lead him on a long journey to amass an impressive collection of these jarring aquatic portraits. Although he believes the shots are mainly just “pretty” and “context-less” photos, it’s clear Tipple is fascinated by the struggle and emotion that comes with fighting against nature's rhythm.

“Underwater, people are concentrating on survival,” Tipple said in an interview with Daisy Dumas. “The camera is the last thing on their mind, and real emotions are revealed without trappings.”

Even as man-made climate change and pollution continues to acidify the ocean and threaten marine animals, the images offer a sobering, ironic reminder of the sheer strength and wrath of Mother Nature.

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The Underwater Project by Mark Tipple
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The Underwater Project by Mark Tipple
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The Underwater Project by Mark Tipple
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The Underwater Project by Mark Tipple
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The Underwater Project by Mark Tipple
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The Underwater Project by Mark Tipple
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The Underwater Project by Mark Tipple
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The Underwater Project by Mark Tipple
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The Underwater Project by Mark Tipple
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The Underwater Project by Mark Tipple
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The Underwater Project by Mark Tipple
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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.