by Edward Cargile
We lost one of the true pioneers in diving … Ralph White. He was an innovator, very experienced and a leader. White combined his love for adventure and cinematography.
White had extensive experience as an underwater cinematographer. He also proved his professionalism as Unit Director and several other film production positions. His range of knowledge about diving and deep submergence was extensive.
Ralph Bradshaw White was born in San Bernardino, California, on August 28, 1941. He grew up in on the Big Island of Hawaii, where he learned scuba diving.
He joined the U.S. Marine Corps and served with a parachute testing unit. His sense of adventure prompted him to volunteer for the elite Marine Corps Force Recon.
White was a Knife-Fighting Instructor, became a Master Jumper and was one of the first parachute jumpers to film other jumpers during free falls. He was a member of the United States Parachute Team.
In 1962 White pioneered the technique of ParaScuba Jumps. Parachuting into water is a tricky operation.
As part of his Marine Corps Force Recon training, White became a very proficient diver. He went through Military Scuba Training conducted by UDT Instructors at the Landing Force Training Unit in San Diego.
After his discharge from the Marine Corps in 1966, White started a parachuting school in Lancaster. He was a Free-Fall Cameraman for the TV show Ripcord. He photographed the World Parachuting Championships for ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
White made over 2,900 parachute jumps. He was co-inventor of the Bell Camera Helmet used for filming skydiving sequences, such as the free-fall skydiving scenes for Ivan Tors Ripcord television series.
With more than 45 years of experience in filming and photographing the ocean, he negotiated depths and environments requiring intensive diving and technological skills. He had over 400 television and motion picture credits to his name.
White then began filming television commercials.
He did extensive in-flight photography for the North American Aviation (which became Rockwell International) Test Flight Facility and underwater filming on several undersea projects for Rockwell International.
He was an underwater still photographer and cinematographer on the Rockwell International deep undersea research submersible Beaver IV and worked on the support crew. Three other diving notables were part of that project were Dr. Andrea B. Rechnitzer, Ed Cargile and Joe Thompson. White filmed Cargile and Thompson locking out of the deep submersible Beaver IV.
Other Rockwell International projects White filmed and worked on included High-Speed Underwater Vehicles, Diver Transport Vehicles and Diver Performance Tests. White was underwater cinematographer and editor for Bill Burrud’s popular TV series The Challenging Sea, Treasure, Islands In The Sun, True Adventures, The Wonderful World of Women, Wanderlust and Animal World.
White was underwater camera-man for Ivan Tors. He was also a Field Producer and Cameraman for the Alan Landsburg television series The Amazing Animals and That’s Incredible.
He was cameraman for the television show Man In The Sea, produced by Col. John D. Craig. White was underwater cameraman on The Aquanauts (1964), Wanderlust (1966), Islands In The Sun (1967), and the Ron and Valorie Taylor’s Great Shark Stories (1978).
He was co-host with Jack Douglas and the underwater cinematographer for the television series Journey To Adventure (1971).
White was one of the innovators in documenting the behind-the-scenes makings of a major motion picture with Columbia’s The Deep, 20thCentury Fox’s Tora-Tora-Tora, and The Valley Of The Dolls.
He covered the thrills of victory for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, NBC’s Sports In Action, and CBS’ Sports Spectacular.
White’s commercial credits include D.B. Needham, J. Walter Thompson, D.J.M.C., and the Honig, Cooper and Harrington advertising agencies.
His underwater cinematography assignments included in many documentaries, such as Loch Ness (1976), The HydroThermal Vents of the East Pacific Rise (1978), The Breadalban Adventure (1983), Discovery of the Wreck of the R.M.S. Titanic (1985), The Beebe Project (1986-99) and Sharks (1991).
He shot the first underwater footage of blue whales, sperm whale pods and minki whales in the waters off Sri Lanka. White also shot footage of the largest flesh-eating shark ever filmed.
For many years Ralph White used deep submersibles as a transportation and shooting platform to film some of the deepest and largest shipwrecks in the sea.
He filmed the challenges of deep submersibles, the complexities of mounting special still and cinema cameras, along with powerful lights, to document what man has lost on the bottom of the sea.
As Director of Photography and Motion Pictures, White worked with Dr. Bob Ballard to document the expedition that found the wreck of the RMS Titanic in 1986 at a depth of 12,600 feet.
White was Director of Submersible Operations and Deep Underwater Imaging, and motion picture cameraman on the French Expedition using the manned deep submersible Nautile during dives to the Titanic in 1987 and 2000 Over 1,800 artifacts from the Titanic’s debris field were recovered for the International Preservation and Trust Fund. During this expedition, White qualified as Co-Pilot of the Nautile.
In 1991, White was Director of Photography and Principal Cinematographer for the Russian-Canadian-American Expedition that filmed the Titanic on the world’s largest motion picture format, IMAX. The resulting spectacular IMAX film was Titanica (1992).
This documentary was possible because of developments in technology. White and Emory Kristof from the National Geographic Society pioneered the development of advanced remote cameras and deep-ocean imaging lighting systems.
The Titanic team utilized the Russian research ship R/V Keldysh and her two deep submersibles --- MIR 1 and MIR 2. White was involved in development of the 5,000 watt H.M.I. Lighting System mounted on the front of the two MIR submersibles.
The Keldysh is the largest ocean research ship in the world.
During the 1992 Titanic Operation, White was Co-Expedition Leader. They used the R/V Sea Mussel. This Operation resulted in the famous Titanic ownership legal battle.
In 1994, White developed specialized photographic and lighting equipment, along with planning the Second-Unit filming of the Titanic for filmmaker Jim Cameron.
In 1995 White was Expedition Leader and Second-Unit Cameraman aboard the R/V Keldysh for the Jim Cameron feature film Titanic.
White’s footage from this expedition was also used for the television special Titanic: Secrets Revealed (1998). The Russian deep submersibles MIR I and MIR I were used for the filming operation. White qualified as co-pilot of the MIR submersibles.
He was the second person hired for the feature film by Jim Cameron, Titanic (1998). White was Expedition Leader and Second-Unit Cameraman for the Academy Award-Winning feature film.
One of his biggest challenges occurred in 2001, when White obtained stereoscopic 3D-HD-TV footage of the Titanic. This footage was then converted to 70mm film for presentation in IMAX theaters.
White and Kristof used their expertise in underwater cinematographers to operate from two Russian deep submersibles (MIR 1 and MIR 2). Out of each deep submersible were two small Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs) that were connected to the deep submersibles by fiber optic cables. Special underwater cameras and lights were mounted in each ROV, with the underwater images routed back to the deep submersibles via the fiber optic cables and recorded inside the deep submersibles.
Mike Cameron designed, built and operated the two advanced ROVs, called the Spider BOTs. (The Spider BOTs technology was later sold to Oceaneering International.) The underwater filming, ROV and deep submersible team operated from the Russian research ship Keldysh. The entire operation was under Dr. Anatoly Sagalevich from the Russian Academy of Sciences. Jim Cameron directed the film and operated of one of the ROVs from inside the deep submersibles.
White was Operations Supervisor of the Medusa ROV for Jim Cameron’s 3D-HD-TV film spectacular IMAX film about the Titanic, called Ghosts Of The Abyss. He was Technologies Coordinator for Jim Cameron’s live broadcast from the deck of the ship for the Discovery Channel’s Last Mysteries of Titanic.
He was also the Deep Sea Imaging and Guest Wreck Expert for the History Channel’s Titanic’s Last Moments Directors and Producers of the film was were two wreck and deep diving experts, John Chatterton and Richie Kohler (Deep Sea Detectives).
White made 35 dives in three deep submersibles down to the Titanic. He was part of the Titanic Expeditions in 1978, 1985, 1987, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2001.
As White put it, he spent more time diving on the Titanic than the ill-fated ship’s Captain Smith.
For more than 25 years, White was a Contract Cinematographer for the National Geographic Society. His work with the National Geographic Society included the search for the Loch Ness Monster and diving through the ice to find a sunken ship 123 miles from the North Pole (the RMS Breadalbane).
With National Geographic cameraman Emory Kristof, Ralph White pioneered the development of advanced remote cameras, 3-D video, H.D.T.V., and deep-ocean imaging and lighting systems.
His assignments for the National Geographic Society included Loch Ness, Surguga Bay, Wild Horses, Reptiles, Sharks, The Beebe Project, Ring of Fire, Exploring Siberia’s Lake Baikal, Deep Sea Geysers, Discovery of Active Volcanic Vents, Monterey Canyon, Discovering the Titanic, and The Great Whales (which won the coveted Emmy for Best Documentary).
White’s still underwater photos appeared in many publications, including National Geographic.
White was involved in many feature films as Director of Photography, Unit Director, Technical Advisor, Writer and other positions.
As Chief Executive Officer for White-Pix Production, White was an independent film and video producer of television programs, commercials, sales and industrial films.
He was active in several professional organizations --- Associate Member of the Deep Submersible Pilots Association; and several photographic societies.
As a Captain in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, he commanded the Photographic Unit.
White was Vice President, President, Board Member and Chairman of the Board of the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences.
For his contributions to diving and deep technology, Ralph White received many awards and honors:
- A Knight of the Military and Hospitaller, Order of St. Lazarus, a Knight of the Order of Constantine, and the recipient of the Cross of Scotland for his filming and conservation accomplishments.
- Fellow, The Royal Geographical Society
- Best Cinematography Award for a Documentary at the World Television Festival in Cannes, France (1966).
- Grenoble Film Festival Gold Medal (1966).
- Emmy Award for Best Documentary on the National Geographic Society’s The Great Whales (1977).
- Golden Eagle Award (1977).
- Cindy Award (1977).
- Golden Halo Award (1984).
- Certificate of Merit from the Titanic Historical Society (1985).
- Titanic Gold Medal by the Oceanic Navigation Research Society (1987).
- NOGI Award for Arts from the Underwater Society of America (now presented by The Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences) (1992).
- Chapter Chairman of the Explorers Club (1994-1996). Fellow and recipient, the Lowell Award from the Explorers Club (2000).
- Inducted into the California Wreck Divers’ Hall of Fame (2001).
- Explorer In Residence, the Canadian Titanic Society
- Life Member, the U.S. Navy Salvage Divers Association
- Past President of the Adventurers Club
- Fellow and Chairman of the Board, The Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences
Ralph White passed away on February 4, 2008, at Glendale Adventist Medical Center from an abdominal aortic aneurism. Following successful surgery, White suffered two cardiac arrests in the hospital, but could not be revived from the second heart attack.
White had a daughter (Krista Few of Yokosuka, Japan), a son (Randy Pixley of Atlanta, Georgia) and two grandchildren (Samantha and Nicholas). His fiancé (Rasaly Lopes) was by his side throughout his ordeal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ed Cargile is a Program Manager, Engineer, Submersible Pilot, Deep Saturation Diver, Commercial & Military Diver, Underwater Photographer and Writer. He has written over 1,740 published articles and four books. This article is one of the biographies from his 1,100-page book, Pioneers In Diving. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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