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Artist debuts photography on artificial reef off Key West


An underwater art exhibit has debuted on a former Air Force missile tracking ship sunk in the Florida Keys.

Austrian art photographer Andreas Franke is exhibiting a dozen images 93 feet underwater on the weather deck of the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg. The exhibit, titled "Vandenberg: Life Below the Surface," is at the National Marine Sanctuary.

Officials who spearheaded the May 2009 scuttling said Franke photographed the wreck last year and digitally added elements to create the artwork.

One picture depicts a girl wielding a butterfly net to capture fish shown in an original underwater image of the wreck. In another, kickboxers compete adjacent to one of Vandenberg's iconic tracking dishes.

The 20-square-foot images are encased in 3-inch-thick Plexiglas, mounted in stainless steel frames and attached to the hull using magnets. The photographs will not affect the artificial reef or any of the aquatic life on it.

According to, when Franke, an avid diver, returned to Austria and examined his photos, he wanted to add life to what he saw as a dead ship.

"Even though there is so much life, marine life, all over and around it, the shipwreck itself, to me, is a dead thing," Franke said. "But I thought that if I put people on it, then there would again be life on that ship."

See a YouTube video of the installation at A website at is under construction and expected to be finished in two weeks, according to It will feature photos and video of the shipwreck and the installation of the exhibit.

Times staff, wires

The Vandenberg was scuttled on May 27, 2009, at right, sinking in less than two minutes. It is one of the world's largest artificial reefs. The largest is the USS Oriskany, an aircraft carrier deliberately sunk off Pensacola in 2006.

In preparing the Vandenberg for sinking, workers hauled off more than a million feet of wire, 1,500 vent gaskets, dozens of watertight steel doors, 81 bags of asbestos, 193 tons of potentially cancer-causing substances, 46 tons of garbage that could come loose and float to the surface,

300 pounds of materials containing mercury and 185 55-gallon drums of paint chips.

The cleanup was performed at two Norfolk, Va., shipyards.

Artist debuts photography on artificial reef off Key West 08/13/11 [Last modified: Monday, August 15, 2011 11:37am]
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