|On December 31, 2002, Jim Church, a pioneer in underwater photography, died at his home in Miami Lakes, Florida after a brief illness. From his early diving experiences in the Navy, in an old style hard-hat suit in Adak, Alaska in 1953, he went on to become a renowned authority on underwater photography. As an author, educator and lecturer, Jim was able to share unselfishly his knowledge with countless individuals, many whom are today's leading underwater photographers worldwide.
Jim, a 1985 NOGI recipient for the Arts, was instrumental as a primary player in the evolution of underwater photography, as we now know it today. From his most rudimentary beginnings experimenting with an Argus C-3 in a leaky plastic bag, to always being on the forefront initiating new technology, his love for underwater photography remained strong.
He began taking underwater pictures professionally in 1964 with a Calypso camera and flashbulbs
SkinDiver Magazine published Jims first article -- A Beginners Guide to Underwater Photography -- in the May, 1966 issue. Jim married Cathy Church in 1969 and together they were a professional team until they divorced in 1987. Since then, their underwater photographic ventures have been separate.
After that first article, Jim became a regular photo writer for Skin Diver, with articles that appeared in almost every issue from May 1966 to January 1999. At one point, at least one of Jims articles appeared in each monthly issue for twenty years running. Many of today's professional underwater photographers started with a camera in one hand and Jim's articles and books in the other. Jim broke from meeting monthly Magazine deadlines during the first part of 1999, but continued writing for the remainder of his life.
Jim's photographs and articles have also appeared hundreds of times in dive, travel and photography magazines, advertisements for companies such as Nikon and Kodak, as well as in numerous books, including The Ocean World of Jacques Cousteau. Jims most recent advertisement shots were taken at Bikini Atoll for the Discovery Channel.
From 1989, Jim had been teaching underwater photography courses on the live-aboard dive vessels of the Aggressor Fleet. This was a very successful strategy because a majority of Jim's students came back for two or more additional courses aboard Aggressors vessels.
Besides being a natural teacher, Jim enjoyed writing instructional books on underwater photography. His first book, Beginning Underwater Photography, (1972) ran for five editions. His two books on strobe photography were well received, and The Nikonos Book (1979, Nikonos I, II & III) and The Nikonos Handbook (1986, Nikonos IV & V) are now collectors' items. Jims most recent books are: Jim Church's Essential Guide to Underwater Video (1992), Jim Church's Essential Guide to the Nikonos Systems (1994, Nikonos V and RS also released in German) and Jim Church's Essential Guide to Underwater Photo Composition (1998, also released in Japanese).
In recent years Jim also lectured at dive expositions around the United States. In a variety of lectures and seminars Jim presented a summary of how to use underwater still photo equipment effectively. He took the mystery out of balancing sunlight and strobe light, TTL, multiple strobe exposures and his special techniques for using strobes in turbid water. These seminars were considered a "must" by beginning or advanced still photographers.
He also lectured on the art and science of underwater videography. His video seminars concentrated on underwater shooting techniques. Jim presented his famous "fifteen practice drills" for camera handling, combining it with professional techniques for planning and shooting an underwater video movie.
Of all the accolades that Jim has received throughout his life, the one that meant the most to him was simply Teacher.
Jim Church was born 1932 in Detroit, Michigan. The family migrated to California during WWII due to the failing health of his father. After his father's death, Jim became the man of the house at age 13. At that time he started working for Bell Products cleaning the shop and continued there through out his school years, learning the welding trade. Graduating from Napa High School with class of 1950 he will be remembered by many for his musical talent playing Harry James style trumpet.
After school Jim joined the Navy for a 5 year hitch as a welder. He realized that without a college education, he would always remain an enlisted man, of sorts, throughout life. Returning home from active duty, he graduated from Napa Junior College and San Jose State with a degree in business. He later received his Masters Degree from the University of Hawaii. His life as an educator began as a business instructor, retiring from Gilroy High School. During his time in Gilroy, one of his favorite locations was the Monterey Bay area during which time he had great interest and provided support in the development of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Jim is survived and lovingly remembered by his brother David Church and sister-in-law Doris Church of Napa, sister Nina Church Smith of Santa Rosa and nephews, Harold Hayes, Jerry Hayes, David Hayes, John Smith, Ed Church and Lisa Church and their respective families.
Please check back here for upcoming news about future tributes throughout 2003.