GALLERIES sniffed snootily when Fremantle photographer Glen Cowans first lobbed up with his stunning underwater photographs, looking for a venue for his first exhibition.
“It’s not art. It won’t sell,” was the oft-heard refrain.
Fortunately the WA Maritime Museum was less stuffy and offered space for a two-month exhibition. A chance meeting with a Sunday Times photographer resulted in an article in the following week’s paper.
“After that we had people queuing to get in,” Cowans says.
Almost 10 years later he’s had 36 exhibitions statewide, and has even ventured over east with a showing at Sydney’s Darling Harbour.
His first ‘gallery’ was a small marquee at the markets in Kings Square, but now he’s well entrenched in a studio beside the historic Round House.
Art, business and tourism collide at the site, as people from near and far drop in; many drawn by a great rating from Tripadvisor: “We have people from all over the world because they were told to go to the gallery.”
Photography and diving may have been a long-held passion, but for 29 years Cowans was an electrician.
“I wanted to be a marine biologist, but I hated study and left school in third year high.”
A mid-life crisis saw wife Louise push him into an exhibition of the fine art photos he’d been taking, and the rest as they say is history.
Not only are Cowan’s photographs stunning, they’re packed with information about what lies beneath the glistening surface.
People are slowly realising the oceans aren’t an infinite resource, but it may be too late, he says.
“Much of this recent acceptance is only a direct result of world fisheries closing down due to lack of fish, or pollution levels in creatures being so high it makes them inedible.”
Diving for years, he’s seen first hand the impact: “It’s impossible to dive a coral reef now that’s not distressed – anywhere in the world.
“During a recent dive in Papua New Guinea we almost filled our mask with tears [at the devastation].”
The irony of much-maligned communist Cuba doing more to save its oceans with sanctuary zones than Australia, wasn’t lost during a recent trip.
“Fifteen per cent are protected and that will be increased to 20 percent because they know how important it is to protect fish.”
Australia currently protects a mere 3 per cent of its marine environment with sanctuary zones.
Cowans is hoping to educate kids and politicians alike on the need to protect our oceans – one stunning photo at a time.
by JENNY D’ANGER
Glen Cowans Gallery
9 Captains Lane, Fremantle