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Pioneering National Geographic Underwater Photographer Emory Kristof Passes Away
By Ian Bongso-Seldrup, February 12, 2023 @ 05:30 PM (EST)


Emory Kristof, famed underwater photographer for National Geographic magazine, has died at the age 80. A longtime staff photographer for the magazine, he produced images for more than 40 articles over three decades, from 1964 to 1994. Kristof helped push the limits of underwater exploration and photography, using underwater submersibles and robotic cameras to shine a light on the deep ocean.

Developing a passion for snorkeling and photography at a young age, Kristof went on to study at the University of Maryland and scored the very first photography internship at National Geographic in 1963. Graduating the following year, he became the magazine’s youngest ever full-time staff photographer. In the early years, as other underwater shooters worked on scuba, Kristof realized there was a fascinating deeper world of shipwrecks and mysterious species that could be explored with remotely operated vehicles.

Kristof participated in numerous undersea expeditions over his storied career. He joined Canadian deep-ocean explorers Joseph Maclnnis and Phil Nuytten to document the world’s northernmost known shipwreck, Breadalbane, and to recover the bell from the wreck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior. He also accompanied Maclnnis and Russian explorer Anatoly Sagalevich aboard the submersible Mir 1 on a 16,400-foot descent into Kings Trough in the eastern North Atlantic.

Most famously, Kristof was known for his work on Titanica, the 1992 IMAX documentary about the RMS Titanic. His team built the “biggest underwater lighting system that anyone had ever used,”  Kristof told Sport Diver in 2017, and two submersibles were employed for the photography. “James Cameron got to see what we were doing with the big lights,” said Kristof, “and that became the beginning of his movie Titanic.”

Kristof earned various awards for both photography and writing, including the NOG Award for Arts from the Underwater Society of America, the Explorers Club Lowell Thomas Award for Underwater Exploration, and with oceanographer Robert Ballard, the American Society of Magazine Publishers Innovation in Photography Award for their Titanic work.

The American photographer passed away on February 6th, 2023, in Northfield, Massachusetts.

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