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Great Atlantis! It's Lake Superior Aquaman

There's something in the lake. It's orange and green and keeps bobbing up and down below the surface. It's not a submarine, bird or fish. It's Lake Superior Aquaman. Jim Richardson is the self-proclaimed "superhero" free diver who often can be sp...

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Jim Richardson, the Lake Superior Aquaman, takes photos below the water surface of the great lake. (Photos by Jim Richardson)
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There's something in the lake. It's orange and green and keeps bobbing up and down below the surface.

It's not a submarine, bird or fish. It's Lake Superior Aquaman.

Jim Richardson is the self-proclaimed "superhero" free diver who often can be spotted dressed in an Aquaman outfit, diving along the lakeshore in the summer. But unlike Aquaman, Richardson isn't diving to protect Atlantis. He is taking footage with his camera of underwater ruins and other sights below Lake Superior's surface.

"It's almost like this whole other world of wilderness and exploration that is right in our back yard. I think a lot of people in Duluth see the lake as this omnipresent force and are too used to the sight of it. And they never peek below the surface," Richardson said.

Richardson has been collecting footage of his dives and explorations for the past five years. A collection of his video stills and underwater photographs of Lake Superior will be shown at 6 p.m. on April 10 at the Red Herring Lounge, 208 E. First St.

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"I look forward to seeing the full body of Jim's work," said Red Herring owner Bob Monahan. "I'm familiar with his videos he posts online and I'm excited to see all he has to offer."

Recently, Richardson got some media attention after a concrete pillar next to "the cribs" in the harbor collapsed in February. Richardson had underwater footage of the column from 2013. The column is lying on the bottom of the lake and he plans to explore the ruins this summer.

Why take underwater photos and videos? Richardson says it's partially because it's something he noticed few people doing and partially because he enjoys playing with the light.

"The possibilities for photography were horribly underexploited," Richardson said. "Images from underwater have a kind of magical light quality that's very interesting to look at and as a photographer to work with."

Richardson has always been a recreational swimmer. A native Texan, he moved to Duluth from Santa Cruz, Calif.in 1998 after marrying a Duluthian. Though he missed the ocean, he was excited to swim in the great lake and take advantage of the shark-free waters.

"I was sort of a beach bum with a shark phobia and couldn't really recreate in the ocean the same way I could in Lake Superior. And I was determined to still be a beach bum and swim as many days as I could," Richardson said.

Richardson says he fell in love with the area and stayed after his ex-wife left. He discovered underwater photography after buying his daughter a Kodak Playsport camera and finding that he enjoyed taking photos below the surface more than she did.

He started posting videos of his dives on the Perfect Duluth Day website and found that people were interested in seeing more underwater views. He adopted the Aquaman persona and started dressing in the outfit to add a quirky aspect to his project.

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"I'm a superhero geek and if I was skydiving, I'd be dressed as Superman," Richardson said. "Plus, the bright green and orange are very visible in the water, which is very beneficial. Lake Superior can be filthy and visibility isn't always great. It helps with safety as well."

Richardson now uses a GoPro camera on his dives. He free-dives, which means without a scuba tank, just a breath of air. He informally trains throughout the winter to hold his breath for longer periods of time. Recently he reached a personal-best time.

"I can hold my breath now for three and a half minutes, sitting still. If I'm swimming, that cuts the time in about half because I'm exerting myself and using oxygen that way," Richardson said.

This summer, Richardson hopes to use his expanded breath-holding ability to dive to 30 feet. He wants to see what holds down the red buoy at the end of the old breakwater wall in the outer harbor.

If you go

What: Underwater Photography in Lake Superior

Where: Red Herring Lounge, 208 E. First St.

When: 6-9 p.m. Friday, April 10

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Cost: Free

 

Related Topics: ENVIRONMENT
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