"Sunset Lemon Sharks"

Jim Abernethy's "Sunset Lemon Sharks" is part of the group photo exhibit "The Deep and the Shallow: Photographers Exploring a Watery World," opening Friday, Nov. 22, at the Palm Beach Cultural Council building in Lake Worth. (Jim Abernethy/Courtesy / November 22, 2013)

In August 2012, Mark Widick, an ear, nose and throat doctor, dove 70 feet deep off the Key Largo coast with a digital Hasselblad camera and photographed his diving buddies: the aquanauts of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) program.

Outside the underwater NOAA Aquarius Reef Base, the Boca Raton resident snapped pictures of aquanauts as they drove submarines and bounded across the sea floor, kicking up sand clouds in their wake. In one photo, against a dark-blue backdrop of soft coral, the aquanauts faced Widick's camera and posed with arms folded across their chests. The image is titled "Badass."

"They really are. We're all having a great time down there," says Widick, 52, who has shot NASA photography as an independent contractor for four years. "The reason NASA loves this place so much is that it does a great job of simulating outer space while on Earth. These NEEMO projects simulate landing astronauts on an asteroid. But if you make a mistake down there, you have to live with it."

A half-dozen photographs from Widick's deep-water journey appear in the group exhibit "The Deep and the Shallow: Photographers Exploring a Watery World," opening Friday at Lake Worth's Palm Beach Cultural Council building. Roughly 100 images from 12 Palm Beach marine photographers, including dive master and shark conservationist Jim Abernethy, Cultural Council founder Alexander Dreyfoos and Lilly Pulitzer's grandson Christopher Leidy capture the splendor of the deep and the animals who dwell near and inside the world's oceans.


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Widick considers his NASA photography a side project and a glimpse into an alternate future: During his childhood in Cocoa Beach, his NASA engineer father, Herman, would invite astronauts from the Gemini and Apollo programs to the house for hamburgers. Instead of following dad into NASA, he stuck to medicine partly out of admiration for his grandfather, a country doctor. He rekindled his friendship with his best friend, NEEMO program manager Bill Todd, who asked him to take pictures of aquanauts.

Other exhibit photographs are missing a human presence, focusing instead on marine wildlife. In the close-up fish portraits of Boca's Judy Townsend, shimmering queen angelfish, striped lionfish and polka-dotted batfish gaze at the camera with gaping mouths. Nearby on pedestals are Tony Arruza's surfboards, one a shortboard with an inlaid photograph of a wave, and the other a fish board inlaid with an image of aquatic life.

Near the gallery's entrance are John J. Lopinot's close-up photography, depicting water falling from a spider's web at dusk, an alligator's head breaking the surface of a mossy swamp and a bird in silhouette stepping through ankle-deep water. The sepia-toned, Clyde Butcher-reminiscent images of Jennifer Podis show river bends and mangroves captured at Big Pine Key. In Abernethy's whimsical photos, lemon sharks poke their heads above the ocean while another image freezes on the moment when a bird's wing nearly touches a shark's fin.

"He's great at capturing scenarios that are atypical. The bird and the shark look like BFFs," Nichole Hickey, the Cultural Council's curator, says. "The composition looks very affectionate, suggesting that sharks are very gentle creatures but misunderstood."

The Deep and the Shallow: Photographers Exploring a Watery World

When: Friday, Nov. 22 through Jan. 18

Where: Palm Beach Cultural Council building, 601 Lake Ave., Lake Worth

Cost: Free

Contact: 561-471-2901 or PalmBeachCulture.com