what lies beneath
Talented underwater photographer and artist Alex Pike captures more than the eye can see
The light that flicks through underwater caverns, the firetruck red of the waratah anemone sitting beneath the surface in rockpools, or the school of fish that glide beside the endangered grey nurse shark are not images we’re all lucky enough to witness in the wild. But thanks to Port Kembla-based artist and ocean photographer Alex Pike, these mesmerising memories are visible to all. Alex’s photographs are captivating – as you look at them, you too are immersed in the ocean, staring straight at that giant cuttlefish or face-to-face with the sea turtle, flippers outstretched. “I love being able to highlight an animal in its natural eco system… in the environment they dwell in,” Alex says. “In the water, it’s unpredictable – I can go out expecting to see nothing then come across some of the most incredible marine life.”
Alex grew up in the ocean at Jervis Bay, working his first job in a dive shop, before moving to Wollongong eight years ago to complete degrees in journalism and conservation biology at Wollongong University. With a strong foundation in science and communications, underwater photography was a natural course for the 26-year-old – combining his love of diving and documenting. Alex’s documentation of the wild, wild world, with particular focus on ecological relationships, conservation and scientific research, is a sensory feast for the audience. This talented artist tells magical stories with his camera.
“There is a lot of planning when it comes to underwater photography,” says Alex, who free dives with a camera rig, weight belt and his Canon 5d to get those incredible shots. “You need to know where to go and what sea life will be present at what times. My background in biology prepares me for this. My goal is to blend the ideas of science and art, so people don’t necessarily have to read a 1000-word thesis to have an understanding, an appreciation, of one species.”
After finishing uni, Alex was offered a commercial gig with Uber Eats as a food photographer. He then went on to build successful connections with other commercial clients, allowing him the freedom to pursue his passion for photography while making a living. In 2017, Alex, along with his girlfriend, Xanthe, opened Bike Park Gallery on Wentworth St, Port Kembla, as an office base for his growing business and a creative space to promote up-and-coming artists.
“There’s a lot of art going on in Port Kembla,” Alex says. “We felt like it was a great spot to start something – to be here at the beginning of the artistic boom in this town.”
Although Alex says the initial concept for the gallery has shifted slightly since opening and the day-to-day of running a business can sometimes prevent ideas from taking full formation, the core of the gallery remains to exhibit and promote the work of artists in the region, as well as showcasing Alex’s own creations. On top of his impressive photographic portfolio, Alex is also an artist, who takes his photos – which he says, “have no human element” – then illustrates over the top to create something new, something fresh, something with more meaning.
“My art all has to do with the way humans interact with nature,” says Alex, who is excited that the explosion of youth culture in Wollongong right now is forging a way forward for a thriving artistic community. “If I can make money from something I enjoy that’s sick, and if I can transition that to bringing my passion for the environment to other people in a more direct way, then that’s awesome, too.”
Currently, Alex is working on a documentary about an extremely endangered crayfish species that’s only found in this area, from Scarborough to Berry. “No-one knows about it,” Alex says. “We got the first photo of it in its natural environment. And that led to research with a crayfish expert in Newcastle. We have the highest diversity of crayfish in Australia, and almost every town on the east coast has its own local species.”
With many projects on the go, diving is downtime for this phenomenal photographer. Some of Alex’s favourite spots to get in the water are out the front at Port Kembla, Bass Point and the “classic” Bushrangers Bay near Shellharbour, where you can snorkel with the grey nurse sharks in summer.
“I’m still in total awe every time I dive,” Alex says, “The ocean, the natural world… it’s just magic.”