Sierra: Do you ever feel that you build a relationship with the creatures that you're photographing?
Cathy Church: You do build a relationship with the feeling of being there. You may not have a relationship with a particular nudibranch — but yes, you can have a relationship with what a nudibranch is because you know how they behave and what they are going to do next. And yeah, they do talk to you — not with words — but with the way they look at you. I like to be in the water long enough and often enough that when I see something in a scene, that scene talks to me. I relate to it. The photography, the seeing the image, is definitely in your heart.
So, how did you first get into underwater photography?
I was a birdwatcher. I loved nature — anything natural was wonderful for me. But I knew that there would not be much future in birdwatching, and that I should become a marine scientist, because I just always loved the ocean. So, as a marine biologist it was obviously a good idea to take up photography to document my theses. And I fortunately met a fellow named Jim Church who did photography, and we continued to pioneer underwater photography together in the 70's because there wasn't a lot known about it. We had primitive equipment and flash bulbs and we would take our light meter and put it in a Skippy peanut butter jar — so there wasn't a lot of sophisticated equipment, but it was enjoyable to figure it out. And I liked the science part of it.
Science comes into play?