Austrian photographer Andreas Franke used two shipwreaks to create his "The Sinking World of Andreas Franke" exhibit, which opens in Lauderdale-By-The-SEa on July 25.

Dirt, dried seaweed and white, crusty blotches of coral growth stain the photographic prints of Andreas Franke, who attaches his artworks to old shipwrecks resting on the ocean floor.

The subjects in Franke's photographs are dispatches from an underwater oasis that never was, showing a world of steel graveyards where boxers swing right hooks from the deck of the warship USS Mohawk CGC, and where ghost-white ballerinas cling to the handrails of the USS Vandenberg. An Austrian commercial photographer who counts scuba diving among his hobbies, Franke superimposes real models over his green-tinted images of shipwrecks, which he shot on diving expeditions off the coast of Florida.

To capture the images found in "The Sinking World of Andreas Franke," opening Friday at Frame 'n Art by the Sea in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Franke dove 130 feet to the Vandenberg, a 10,000-ton missile-tracking ship seven miles south of Key West. Sunk and turned into an artificial reef in 2009, the Vandenberg was an immediate attraction for Franke, who appreciated its history as a transport vessel that carried troops home from Europe at the close of World War II.

"The Vandenberg is huge, and when you dive through it, it's like floating through a sunken gallery of memories," Franke says from his studio in Vienna. "So I came up with this crazy idea: Maybe the shipwreck can be a kind of living museum."


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After shooting the shipwreck, Franke says he returned to his studio, hired models and clad them in period costumes. Standing against a green-screen backdrop, the models pretended to interact with the ship. A woman in a sundress, later Photoshopped to be standing in the ship's gangway, hangs pantyhose from a clothesline. In another, a girl runs along the Vandenberg's stern, swinging a net at schools of fish swarming overhead.

In diving footage captured on GoPro cameras that will screen during Friday's opening reception, Franke is shown plunging back into the ocean with his completed prints, now mounted in a cage of Plexiglas and stainless steel, which he then fastens to the Vandenberg's hull with powerful magnets.

The prints remained there for four months, long enough for divers to stumble upon Franke's gallery while exploring the Vandenberg, says Richard Black, a spokesman for Florida Dive Connection, which helped deliver Franke's exhibit to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

"The original idea was to make it completely waterproof, but then the water seeped into the cage and warped the images. Growth got in there," Black says. "It was a really cool transformation."

Franke re-created the idea for his 12-image series with the USS Mohawk, a sunken 165-footer located 28 miles west of Sanibel Island that, during World War II, launched 14 attacks against German U-boats and served in the Invasion of Normandy. Franke also added a theme: Navy sailors, who appear in images competing in arm-wrestling contests, working out with barbells and engaged in fistfights outside the captain's quarters.  In others, the sailors are replaced with sunbathing women, whom Franke says troops must have been thinking about while at sea.

Joe Weatherby, whose company, Reefmakers, was responsible for sinking the Vandenberg and Mohawk, says the transformation of the prints underwater is a “microcosm for what happens over years and years to artificial reefs.”

“It speaks to the magic and healing power of the ocean, how the ocean survives and creates ecosystems,” Weatherby says.

The Sinking World of Andreas Franke

When: Friday, July 25, through Sept. 21 (reception: 5:30-9 p.m. Friday)

Where: Frame 'n Art by the Sea, 229 Commercial Blvd., Lauderdale-by-the-Sea

Cost: Free, donations suggested

Contact: 954-267-9202 or FloridaDiveConnection.com