Exhibit of the Week: Underwater camera, Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton-le-Hole

Geoffrey Willey with his underwater camera.
Geoffrey Willey with his underwater camera.

Were you one of the many people capitivated by the BBC’s Blue Planet II and the amazing underwater photography?

At Ryedale Folk Museum there is an underwater camera housing, devised by professional photographer Geoffrey Willey, to enable him to take photographs underwater in the 1950s.

This was in the very early days of underwater photography, a decade before the groundbreaking television programmes of Jacques Cousteau, when twenty-first century technology and the pictures we now enjoy would have seemed like science fiction.

The housing was made in the 1950s to be used with a Kodak 16mm cine camera so it could be used underwater. It is cylindrical, with a small round window on the top, a lens at the front, a removable back and two handles at either side. It has external controls and was designed to be used to a depth of 10 metres.

In the 1950s Geoffrey worked as a photographer for the Institute of Seaweed Research in Musselburgh in Scotland.

Having no experience of “shallow diving” when he got the job, he was sent to Chatham for six weeks training as a frogman by the Royal Navy. He then wanted to photograph seaweed underwater but had no suitable equipment so he designed the housing to enable him to use his cine camera underwater. It was made to his design by engineers at the Institute.

He then attempted to photograph underwater in the Firth of Forth but pollution, then an unrecognised problem in seas and rivers, was so bad that visibility was zero. He tried again diving off Oban on the west coast of Scotland but encountered the same problem. He moved up to the Orkneys and was 
finally able to get his underwater footage.

Geoffrey Willey is another of the fascinating characters associated with Ryedale Folk Museum. From boyhood he regularly visited the North York Moors from his home in Scarborough.

He became friendly with Bert and Evelyn Frank, William Crosland and Raymond Hayes, who were all instrumental in setting up the 
museum in 1964. Geoffrey used his photographic skills to record all the activities and building projects to create a fascinating photographic record of the development of the museum.

Photographs even exist of Geoffrey taking photographs and show him perched precariously at the top of tall ladders to get his preferred pictures from above.

In 2014, aged 100, he dug the first sod for the foundations of the new Harrison Collection exhibition building.

When Geoffrey died in 2015, he left his wide collection of photographic equipment to the museum, ranging from an 1890 studio camera and a 1970s Panasonic video camcorder.

Some of his equipment is now on display at the museum.

l Ryedale Folk Museum is now open every day until December 2. Particular highlights for the year include the ever-popular Tractor and Engine Day on Sunday July 29, and a celebration of traditional rural skills during the Countryside Crafts weekend on August 18 and 19.