At 49, Scott “Gutsy” Tuason has been diving for more than three decades, with four months as the longest surface interval he took while he was recovering from an episode of decompression sickness (he shaved two months off from the recommended six). It’s impossible to keep him away from the ocean for too long, and one suspects that he’s much more comfortable with his fishy friends anyway. Living in Manila makes it easy for a weekend escape to macro mecca Anilao, a 2.5 hour drive away.
When Gutsy was a mere boy of eight, his father took him down for the first time in Anilao, without a PADI course, or even proper attire (they would dive in blue jeans and a sports jersey). Gutsy was hooked. “This is where I belong!” he recalls feeling after his first real dive with his own tank. When he was 16, his dad gave him his first underwater camera, a Nikonos 5. Years passed, hundreds of dives were logged, and he tried taking up marine biology at the University of Tampa, Florida, but dropped out because of “there was too much bio and not enough marine,” and ended up finishing economics along with several photography courses. Eventually he moved back to Manila, worked in the family firearms business, all the while diving and shooting whenever he could.
One evening, after a long day of diving in Anilao, Gutsy and his friend Eduardo Cu-Unjieng were talking over a few beers and observed that Anilao had enough photography subjects to warrant doing a book together. It would be their first. They were dismayed by the amount of dynamite and other forms of destructive fishing going on, and both shared the desire to showcase Anilao’s wealth of marine life from an artistic and conservation perspective.
The book was launched in early 2000, and that year he attended his first DEMA (The Diving Equipment and Marketing Association trade show), where he met one of his idols, Nat Geo photographer David Doubilet. Barry Andrewartha, publisher of the magazine Sport Diver Australia, encouraged him to enter the book at the World Festival of Underwater Images in Antibes, France. Anilao ended up winning the P’alme d’Or award at Antibes. The little-known dive spot was put on the world map for macro photography.
By the mid 2000s, Gutsy had switched over to digital photography, though he had fought it for a while. Everything he shot after his 2004 self-published book Bahura was now captured in pixels, and the dive experience itself has changed. No longer would he have to pace himself, instead he could blast away, or keep returning to the same subject over and over again. His next self-published book, Notes From the Sea, came a decade later, and to say there were a lot of photos to choose from would be an understatement. Notes From the Sea collects his best work from the last ten years with ten of his favorite and most amusing anecdotes from his diving excursions.
After a trip to Hawaii in 2012, Gutsy developed a new obsession, one that requires even more technical skill, and a healthy lack of fear of things that might go bump in the night: blackwater diving. It is a pitch dark experience, except for the millions of tiny life forms that swirl around like stars. Every night in the ocean, the largest migration on the planet occurs, with deep sea animals rising up from the bottom to feed on zooplankton and phytoplankton. Photographing in these conditions is quite difficult and vertigo-inducing, as it is almost impossible to tell which way is up or down. Many of the creatures Gutsy has photographed while doing blackwater have never been shot before in their larval or juvenile stage, or exhibiting a particular behavior. He collaborates with marine scientists in the US and Australia to identify the species, and is now considered the leading blackwater diving expert in Asia, offering dive trips to remote and undiscovered locations in the Philippines.
His latest book, Blackwater and Open Blue, pairs these nighttime photographs of the oftentimes minuscule with daylight images from open ocean diving, large animals like humpback whales and monumental events like the sardine run. It won Book of the Year at the 2017 Underwater Photographer of the Year Competition, and one of the judges, Alex Mustard, called it “a comprehensive view of the open ocean. Groundbreaking.”
When he’s notout diving, Gutsy runs Squires Bingham Sports, a store in Manila that specializes in scuba gear, underwater imaging equipment, and cold beers at happy hour.