The BP exhibition

Sunken cities
Egypt’s lost
worlds

 

19 May – 27 November 2016

Supported by BP BP logo

Organised with the Hilti Foundation and
the Institut Européen d’Archéologie Sous-Marine

The BP exhibition

Sunken cities
Egypt’s lost worlds

19 May – 27 November 2016

Supported by BP BP logo

Organised with the Hilti Foundation and
the Institut Européen d’Archéologie Sous-Marine

Underwater filming with Roland Savoye

 

And then the magic comes. No more poor visibility but a mysterious mist…

Roland Savoye is an underwater cameraman and has filmed the underwater archaeological excavations of Franck Goddio since 1992. Here he talks about his unique job.

 

‘Underwater filming in the bays of Alexandria or Abukir [where the sunken cities of Canopus and Thonis-Heracleion are located] is never easy. You never know what your dive will be like. You’re facing the open sea, the sediment from the Nile is never so far away, and the wind is strong. That makes the water murky – brown or green – and the visibility bad. But despite all this, the job is amazing – with a capital A! I’ve been diving with Franck Goddio for 20 years now. It’s an experience that’s such a huge part of my life. It changes you forever – you get addicted to discovery.

Roland Savoye holding a voluminous Betacam and Pascal Morisset a HMI lamp, capturing the discovery of a large statue dump near the Serapeum in Canopus. Christoph Gerigk © Franck Goddio / HILTI Foundation

‘Let’s talk about underwater filming in Alexandria. From my first dive there in 1996 I tried my best to get rid of the visibility problem. Sometimes you just have to wait. When you can’t even see your hand in front of your mask, that’s all you can do. The swell of the water is also something you have to deal with. It’s kind of a forced dance. But one day you’re lucky – two metres of visibility, a gift!

‘My dive partner Pascal Morisset is in charge of the light – he holds a portable light called an HMI (Hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide). HMI lamps are extremely powerful and closely match the colour of sunlight, with a temperature of 4,500 to 5,600 Kelvin. When I started, I used a Betacam, a format which democratised and uniformed video broadcast in the 1990s. But technology changes fast – today I use an XDCam HD 4.22. The camera is very large and overall the equipment is incredibly heavy at 65kg! But the picture in the monitor is incredible – a sphinx facing us, then another hidden under centuries of coral. And then the magic comes. No more poor visibility but a mysterious mist. The swell gives us the beat…

Diver facing a sphinx discovered in a temple to Isis on the Royal island of Antirhodos in the Portus Magnus of Alexandria. © Franck Goddio / HILTI Foundation

‘From a small gold ring in a wreck of Alexandria to the big colossal statues of Thonis-Heracleion, we try to tell the truth with our pictures. We follow the object from discovery to conservation, including the topography, the process of excavation, making drawings etc. Every layer of clay or sand must be captured in the frame, because it will never go back to its original context. Future archaeologists will be able to learn from these videos. Even if the archaeological method is precise and painstaking, with the videos you can magnify the scene, feel like a diver with the same emotion, if only for a moment. That is our contribution.

‘Since 1996 we’ve done several documentaries – 20 years. But I am still passionate and also feel lucky. Filming sunken cities in Egypt is something I don’t take for granted. It’s a tough job, but – as I said – amazing.’

 


 

If you’re interested in the technical aspects of what Roland uses to film – housings, underwater lens corrector, buoyancy, 2K, 4K super 35mm – you can find out more at cinemarine.com

Membership

See the exhibition free as a Member

Tickets

Adults £16.50, under 16s free