FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. - This weekend, Southwest Florida's most famous artificial reef was transformed from a memorial into a masterpiece. An international photographer chose the USS Mohawk for part of a sunken series, and only WINK News was underwater as the Coast Guard Cutter became an art gallery.
Amongst the barnacles and algae on her steel frame, twelve poster-sized pieces of artwork now adorn the USS Mohawk. Welcome to "The Sinking World" of Andreas Franke.
"I'm a photographer as well as a diver, and it has always been my wish to bring the two together," explains Andreas.
The Austrian photographer created a masterpiece unlike any other by superimposing models in period clothing onto underwater images of the ship.
With visibility at least 70 feet, Advanced Divers swim down the pieces of artwork. Using magnets to ensure no harm to the vessel, Andreas carefully hangs each piece in the same location as depicted in the original photograph.
He perfects the positioning of four crewmen fighting, an image Meteorologist Katie Walls helped carry to the vessel.
Inspired by her service and victory in World War II, Andreas chose sailors' everyday lives at sea as the theme for the Mohawk Project.
"They have so much time on this boat. They are waiting and have worked. They can't go on land, so maybe also their fantasies. That's also why you see some girls down there," Andreas explains.
Reminiscent of an iconic image, a sailor passionately kisses his loved one. Swim through a barrage of tomtates and find an image of two crewmen arm wrestling; the next is a sailor getting tattooed.
"It's amazing to see pictures of your ship that are turned into pieces of art hanging on your ship," says Mike Campbell, Environmental Specialist for Lee County DNR, without whom the Mohawk wouldn't be where she is today.
"I just never would've imagined. It really is cool, really a neat thing to see," says Campbell. He has high hopes the attraction will boost tourism this summer season, and based off Saturday's turn out, he has good reason.
"I'll be honest. I've never seen 65 divers on a shipwreck before," says Campbell.
Descending to the seafloor, 90 feet below the surface, Katie finds the only swimmers uninterested in the artwork, two large goliath grouper. She lets the full-time residents be and returns to the show.
A barracuda, the length of the frame, swims by a captain smoking a pipe on the bridge.
Over the course of the next three and a half months, the pieces will become part of the marine-life now thriving on the Veterans Memorial Reef.
The Mohawk Project is the third installment in the Sinking World series. It will be on display through September 15th.
If you're not a diver but still want to see the artwork, the images will be displayed at the Lee County Alliance for the Arts in Fort Myers for three weeks in October.
The artist financed the entire endeavor. According to Mike Campbell, no tax dollars or public assets were used.