BOUTAN, Louis, Ph.D.
Last updated: February 25, 2018 at 4:54 am
Marine biologist; hardhat diver; inventor of one of the first underwater camera housings in 1893; took the world’s first underwater self-portrait using a Detective camera inside a wooden housing that he designed with his brother Auguste; used the first underwater flash bulb designed by Frenchman Chauffour in 1893; Boutan and Joseph David later designed and improved a more reliable and much larger housing that weighed approximately 180 kg (400 lbs) in air; author of La Photographie Sous-Marine (1900), a book on underwater photography; defended his doctoral thesis on the anatomy and development of the mollusk Fisurella alternata in Banyuls in 1886; became a professor at the University of Lille in 1888; was the assistant of Professor Henri Lacaze-Duthiers at the Sorbonne Faculty of Sciences in Paris in 1892; worked at the research stations in Roscoff and Banyuls where he bred and studied the mollusk Haliotis; began to hardhat dive to observe the mollusks in situ when it was found that they did not survive in aquariums after reaching adulthood.
“The strangeness of these undersea landscapes made a very great impression on me, and I thought it regrettable that that I could not translate it except by a description that was more or less accurate, but necessarily incomplete. I would have liked to bring back a more tangible souvenir from these undersea explorations; but it would not have been really possible, however good a diver one was, to do a drawing, even a rough outline, underwater.” — Louis Boutan (1900)
FROM LA PHOTOGRAPHIE SOUS-MARINE (1900)
The boat being anchored securely to the bottom and kept stationary with the help of a series of cables fixed to the rocks of the coast, I put on my diving suit and went in at the point chosen in advance as the center of operations. After having landed at the desired depth, I signaled the captain to lower the different parts of the photographic equipment. On the end on a line I received the iron platform, the copper-covered camera, and a weight to anchor everything. The view chosen, I would set up the base of the apparatus at leisure and arrange the camera in such a way as to have only to press a button to open the shutter. This done, I sent another signal to the captain who held the lifeline in his hand. This signal indicated that the exposure had begun, and I would wait patiently for the captain to indicate the end of the operation. You understand, of course, that it is impossible or, at least, very difficult without a special gadget, to take a watch down in a diving suit to time the exposure. Thanks to the method that I had adopted, this difficulty was overcome; the captain’s job was to consult his watch and warn me in time. It was thus that the photographs were obtained, after exposures that lasted up to a half-hour. — Louis Boutan (1900)