This section explores an A-Z of the themes that reoccur throughout the images that we gathered for this project.
O is for Ocean
Across the Atlantic, the growing knowledge of the seas in the wake of the Scientific Revolution encouraged both the intensification of their use and the investigation of its depths, such that ‘the ocean transformed into a site for science, an industrial setting for transoceanic communications cables, and a cultural reference that resonated with a generation fascinated by the sea’ (Rozwadowski, 2019: 10).
The underwater voyage of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, of Jules Verne’s 1871 Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, inspired all kinds of fictional submarine adventures, such as the 1903 serials Frank Reade, Jr’s Search for the Silver Whale and Jack Wright’s Electric Sea Ghost.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the enduring fascination with the deep inspired French artists like Jean-Marc Côté to imagine the underwater world in the year 2000. Aboard an underwater ocean liner or bus, passengers could marvel at the ‘ocean palace’ beneath the waves through glass windows, or paint an underwater landscape. Submarine yachts and fish-drawn carriages also sped through the deep, as observers watched on, relaxing on an underwater terrace. Similar scenes might be found in 2012, as commuters prepared to arrive at an underwater station.
Aside from breathing apparatus, play and recreation on the seafloor in the year 2000 closely resembled activities on land – a croquet party, a duel, or the races, with human jockeys astride fish, instead of horses. Thanks to spearguns, the hunt also proceeded underwater, while fishing lines lured seagulls, instead of fish. Indeed, all kinds of marine creatures animate these scenes, mostly poised to succumb to human predation, as aquanauts wrestle with octopus, collect pearls, and catch giant crabs.Others took inspiration from the field of geology, where at the turn of the century, Austrian geologist Eduard Suess was challenging Lyell’s uniformitarianism. French astronomer and author Nicolas Camille Flammarion, for instance, depicted the ocean of the twenty-fifth century as a violent agent of geological change, eroding the shoreline, in his 1894 Omega: The Last Days of the World. This contrast with the playful scenes of Côté’s seas suggest the diverse meanings, uses and expectations of the world’s oceans on the eve of the twentieth century.