Detail of “Favorite Nemo” by Charles Wallace

In 1983, Louisvillian Charles Wallace got hooked on recreational diving. Ever since then, he’s been trying to capture the beauty of the world below for the world above to see.

On Friday, March 15, Wallace will debut 20 of his favorite photographs of deep-sea life taken over the last 10 years or so at Cook Studio & Gallery. The exhibition, appropriately titled “Under the Sea,” features bright and colorful snapshots of fish, coral and other sea creatures lurking just beneath the surface.

Insider caught up with Wallace, co-owner of Louisville’s River House, to talk more about his hobbies of diving and photography, and his passion to protect the seas.

Charles Wallace and his gear | Courtesy

He explains that most of the photos in the exhibit were taken in the western Pacific Ocean region (Indonesia, Wakatobi, Philippines and Fiji), where diversity of sea life is so much better.

Between his service in the U.S. Navy and being stationed at the Pensacola Naval Hospital and his penchant for diving, Wallace says seeing the vast array of colors that exist the deeper you go in the ocean is what got him hooked.

“We know more about space than we do about the ocean, so some of that attraction is the mystery and unknown,” he explains. “More of it now is related to the environmental effects on the world’s food chain and how depletion of the fish populations are going to affect our health and diet very soon. There is also unmatched beauty in these creatures.”

Wallace started lugging an underwater camera with him to help capture the beauty he was witnessing, and as you might have guessed, he’s made a lot of upgrades over the years as technology becomes more advanced.

One of the first decent investments he made was in an underwater Nikonos III 35mm film camera in the ’80s, but he made the leap to digital once the Nikon D70 came out in the early ’00s.

Digital photography, he says, helped make underwater images much easier to take.

“As I got more established, my camera budget grew with the technology advancements,” says Wallace, adding that he now uses a Nikon D4, four lenses in a titanium case, dual strobe lights and plenty of connecting cables, not to mention all the diving gear. On land, this all weighs about 35 pounds, but in water, it’s pretty light.

What’s not light is the amount he spends on all the latest cameras and accessories.

“The cost is significant these days. I tell people I don’t have a boat, so I have my investment in underwater camera gear,” Wallace says. “I don’t play golf either!”

“Pink Anemone” by Charles Wallace

Wallace finds peace in the water, although he is well aware that danger lurks all around him. He’s been on several shark dives, but that’s actually not something he is afraid of.

“Sharks are very beautiful creatures, and actually they are not the terror of the sea that people talk about,” he explains. “I have photographed many more dangerous critters than sharks — most of them venomous and very quick to attack. I have been lucky and careful.”

Detail of “Tomato Anemonefish” by Charles Wallace

Wallace’s photos have been featured at other galleries in the area, but “Under the Sea” marks his first solo show.

He hopes the images he’s captured please those who see them and also make people more aware of the fragility of the planet — especially the parts covered with water.

“Ninety-eight percent of the people in this world have not been more than 15 feet below sea level to see what a beautiful world it is,” says Wallace. “We need to clean up the pollution and chemical spills in our oceans — do something about it before it is too late.”

“Under the Sea” opens Friday, March 15, with a reception from 6 to 10 p.m. The exhibit continues through April 30. Cook Studio & Gallery is located at 1832 Frankfort Ave.

Sara Havens

Sara Havens

Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville. She's known around town as the Bar Belle and updates her blog (barbelleblog.com) daily. She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."