Memories from an underwater cameraman

Bob Dunn discusses his career photographing shipwrecks and studio films

Photo by Matt McPherson/The Valley Chronicle
Bob Dunn provides a multimedia presentation of artifacts recovered from a shipwreck salvage off the coast of Cyprus.

■ Matt McPherson / Contributed

World famous underwater cinematographer Bob Dunn, a member of the Underwater Demolition Team during World War II, gave an exciting and informative presentation at the Valle Vista Library July 13 about his experiences as a professional photographer, most notably photographing shipwrecks for “National Geographic.”
Dunn used his G.I. Bill to earn a photography degree from USC and later studied at the Fred Archer School of Photography in Los Angeles, where he mastered the operation of the 4×5 view camera. The still frame photography industry was so competitive that he transferred to cinema, which he grew fond of due to what he calls its “unlimited potential for creativity.”
After freelancing for many years he found himself between jobs and married with a young child. He qualified as a machinist for Panavision (the largest camera rental house in the world) where he helped manufacture and test cutting-edge prototype cameras. Once Panavision found out he had attended Fred Archer and had film experience, they immediately hired him. During his 20-year career with Panavision, he trained more than 40 people and was influential in the manufacture, production and servicing of more than 375 cameras.

Dunn says the two greatest highlights of his life came during the late 1960s. In 1968, he was hired as an underwater cameraman to shoot an expedition for National Geographic. Working on the island of Cyprus, he filmed the archaeological recovery of artifacts from a 2,500-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Kyrenia. The second highlight of Bob Dunn’s life came when Jacques Cousteau recruited him to the Deep Submergence Program, which lasted 18 months.
Dunn retired from Panavision and moved to Hemet in 1985. One day he received a call from Panavision asking him if he would be interested in filming a movie about Wyatt Earp called “Tombstone.” That one phone call resulted in eight straight years of filming, averaging about one feature film a year. Between 1996 and 2004 Dunn filmed “Waterworld,” “6 Days and 7 Nights,” “Broken Arrow,” “Last Man Standing,” and “Master and Commander.”
During the presentation Bob played the archaeological film from the Cyprus shipwreck. The film detailed the careful excavation of hundreds of artifacts from the bottom of the sea and the careful and diligent restoration of the ship recovered from the ocean floor.
Dunn turned 90 in November and attributes his health to his long career working in the movie industry and exercise. He also highly recommends getting a second job, which serves as a backup in times of transition.
Many world-renowned artists, scientists, philosophers, biographers and individuals from all walks of life make up the wondrous landscape that is our hidden gem of a valley within Southern California. The Valle Vista Library features many of these local heroes in its Moments in Time presentations, which are scheduled monthly.

Photo by Matt McPherson/The Valley Chronicle
Bob Dunn shows the audience some of the many photographs and memorabilia from his long career as an underwater cameraman.

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