Photo: Bruce Thayer
Keith Ellenbogen is an accomplished underwater photographer. He began to learn about the ocean and marine life at the age of sixteen as a volunteer assistant aquarist at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ), for Steve Bailey, Curator of Fishes. Today, some twenty years later, Keith and Steve remain life-long friends, dive buddies and professional colleagues. Keith says “Bailey was one of the most influential people in my life,” by fostering his interests in the underwater world.
Looking back, as a volunteer at the NEAQ, Keith experienced first hand about the role the oceans play within our global marine environment. Keith’s first experience underwater was in the Giant Ocean Tank, which is comprised of Caribbean marine animals. As a high school student (from Newton, M.A.) and part of the aquarium team, he also participated in a ‘collecting trip’ to catch tropical fish in the Bahamas. While on this trip, Channel 5’s Chronicle show happened to have sent an underwater photographer to film the expedition and Keith says from that point on, he was hooked. “I said Oh My God, this is fantastic! I can’t believe that people can do this for a living,” as he contemplated the integration of nature and film. Upon returning to Boston, Keith acquired his first camera, a Nikonos-V, and started taking pictures off the coast of Gloucester.
Keith went on to find his own voice for making his unique contributions to the underwater world. Through his photographic lens, he sought ways to explore and disclose it’s hidden beauty through the medium of photography, and bring global images home through numerous publications – with a purpose of inspiring others toward the same affinity for nature that the NEAQ brought him earlier in his life..
After receiving a MFA from Parsons School of Design in Design and Technology, Keith was awarded a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship to Malaysia. His purpose was to showcase visually compelling images that reveal not only the magnificent artistic beauty of marine life, but also the environmental threats. This year abroad was another turning point that solidified his choice of underwater photography and videography as a visual platform to inspire positive social change about our wonderful ocean environment.
Keith is deeply committed to connecting the arts and sciences with education. He works with world-renowned environmental scientists and international conservation-based NGO’s. For example he spent three months in the Mediterranean Sea photographing the endangered Atlantic Bluefin Tuna on an annual migration to reproduce. Keith also worked with Conservation International, partnered with The New England Aquarium, to capture images and stories for the launch of the Ocean Health Index.
While Keith works for a number of organizations, he describes the New England Aquarium a “home base” for his ongoing inspiration and unfolding work. Last summer, working with marine mammal trainers and the marketing department, Keith photographed the California Sea Lions for the 2012 New England Aquarium summer advertising campaign “Mischief Loves Company.” He also joined the New England Aquarium/Monterey Bay Aquarium on an diving expedition to Fiji with his long-time buddy Bailey and other dear colleagues.
Most recently, Keith was selected as part of the New England Aquarium expedition to the remote Phoenix Islands where he worked with Heather Tausig VP of Conservation program and the lead Phoenix Islands Protected Area NEAq Associate Scientist Randi Rotjan to share visual stories that highlight the marine science, conservation and create awareness about one of the worlds most important coral reef ecosystems. “I am fortunate to work with these amazing scientists. It’s an exciting and important challenge to expose their work through an artistic and journalistic perspective of the camera lens—both above water and below.” He hopes his photos will help inspire yet another generation of scientists, artists, and educators – all with the singular goal of protecting the earth’s natural underwater beauty and majesty for all to see and enjoy.
When he is not on assignment, Keith lives in Brooklyn New York. He is Faculty member in the Photography Program at Parsons School of Design. You can learn more about Keith at www.bluereef.com or at the NEAq Live Blue Profile Page.