Gilt-head bream, Martinska, Croatia
You can draw a lot of animals with light. The fish cluster like moths around the light of the camera, and it shimmers off their scales lighting up the Adriatic night. Gloom is just a few feet away, and the dozens of fish swim in and out of it. They seem mostly a sleek and twitchy kind, with one long fin down their back that they can raise and lower like a sail as they maneuver through the current eating marine snow, little bits of plankton and detritus that drift through the water column like a blizzard or dustmotes swirling in a stagelight. They feed by projecting their mouths a good inch in front of their bodies to create negative pressure, a tiny suction that brings the morsel into their reach almost too fast to see. It’s hard to know where to look, and I wish they’d all swim off somewhere for a few minutes so I could just watch the slow drift of plankton without their constant starts and stops and course corrections. A silly thing to wish for an ocean without fish. Some shine like flickering lanterns; what do they do in the absence of light? Do they prefer an illuminated buffet? Does feeding in the dark lack drama and intrigue? It sounds exciting to me, night feeds in which you can feel your schoolmates’s eddies, the drag of their scales past your cheek, but not see them. Though maybe it grows boring after awhile, like most things. It might be nice sometimes to see who’s come to lunch. Sebald writes about the changing sex of bream in The Rings of Saturn, saying female bream are “increasingly developing male sexual organs and the ritual patterns of courtship are now no more than a dance of death, the exact opposite of the notion of the wondrous increase and perpetuation of life with which we grew up.” It’s one of the few false sentences he writes in that book. I can’t tell the gender of these fish, but the only dancing going on here is one of life and feeding and glittering things. Maybe there’s death, too, but death is hardly an opposite to life.