Male seahorses, 1931
See Vintage Pictures of Sea Creatures From the 1920s and ’30s
Jean Painlevé devised ways to photograph and film the lives of sea animals in incredible detail.
From the ethereal mating dance of seahorses to octopus tentacles emerging from a watery fog, Jean Painlevé presented common sea creatures as both scientific specimens and as works of art.
The visionary filmmaker and photographer spent much of the 20th century turning underwater fauna into graphic, architectural wonders. Inspired by a childhood on the Breton coast in France, Painlevé explored the underwater world in photographs taken through a microscope, more than 200 films, and even a range of sea creature–themed fashion accessories.
His work was shown as scientific research at the Academy of Sciences in Paris, inspired artists from Pablo Picasso to Joan Jonas, and was even a potent symbol for champions of gender equality.
His best-known work, a