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Lake Tahoe person under water

Lake Tahoe – The otherworldly beauty as seen from below.

In the 1870s, acclaimed painters Albert Bierstadt, William Marple and Norton Bush were exposing a new wave of residents in California, as well as the rest of America, to a place known as Lake Bigler. Images of its sheen of blue and towering, snow-capped mountains were finding homes in galleries across the country. For nearly everyone beyond the local indigenous tribes, those works offered a first glimpse of this national gem that would eventually be known as Lake Tahoe.
More than 150 years later, Dylan Silver picked up the mantel to expose viewers to Lake Tahoe. Instead of the standard fare commonly found on calendars and Instagram, however, Silver’s work shows another side of Lake Tahoe, the one people rarely come face to face with: its underside.

In his powerful book “Clarity,” Silver shares the results of spending more than 150 days in Tahoe’s waters and the final selects from over 100,000 photos. The 160-page pictorial book reveals a world where boulders, sand fields, eerily assembled forests, and even the graceful contortions of balletic swimmers all come alive in a liquid world under the influence of the skies above.
“On every swim and every dive, a little nudge of curiosity propelled me deeper,” said Silver in explaining the process that helped the 35-year-old formulate his first book. That curiosity, complemented by his talents as a photographer, is on full display in Clarity.
Silver spent 15 years at Lake Tahoe before moving to Monterey where he gained employment as Resident Underwater Photographer for Backscatter Underwater Video & Photo, a position that has allowed him to not just expand his underwater shooting skills but also to broaden his knowledge in business, marketing, and the art of running a company. His ambition now is to move back to Tahoe, the place where he and his wife first met.

“Lake Tahoe has an awesome population of adventure-minded people who – like me – are drawn to the water, all year long,” Silver said. “They’re out there on kayaks, in wet suits, and boats and taking to the lake they love. I think “Clarity” gives them an even closer connection to Tahoe and a better understanding of what lies beneath them.”
What lies beneath contains, like the shorelines and coves above, an uncommon abundance of beauty. Silver scouts many of his locations from the vantage point of a paddleboard or by simply donning mask, snorkel and fins and hovering over new horizons. What unfolds before him holds its share of surprises.

“I’d say that the sunken forest in Emerald Bay is probably one of the eeriest places I visit beneath Tahoe,” Silver explained. “You’ve got these massive, full-length pine trees that were swept into the lake by landslides and they’ve become waterlogged and are standing on end, anchored in silt. It’s very surreal.” Another part of the lake that Silver finds hauntingly beautiful is the Rubicon Wall, a portion of the lake where a sheer wall of gigantic underwater cliffs drops seemingly straight into a deep, blue-black abyss.
In Clarity, Silver also confronts the underbelly of Tahoe’s underside: the debris that’s collecting in its waters. He sees a lake bottom white with dead Asian clam shells and matts of algae that weren’t part of the lake at one time. As to its legendary clarity, the lake experiences ebbs and flows, but the presence of trash is steadily increasing, noting the irony of seeing a “Lake Tahoe” emblazoned sweatshirt floating spookily above the lake floor. “It’s been a dumping ground for over a decade in many ways and it rears its head now and then, but there are times when even man’s presence has its unintended beauty,” he explains, referring to – among other things – railroad tracks over a century old that transported boats from the log garage of a Tahoe estate to the waters beyond.

Finally, Silver shared a glimpse into Tahoe’s underwater world that’s accessible to even the shyest of swimmers. He spoke of a moment that can surpass a spectacle that most who visit Lake Tahoe are treated to on occasion: sunset. “God’s rays are amplified down there as you float on your back, gazing up toward a surface where the day’s last light is angled by the ripples on the surface. It’s like sunset is exploding all around you in flickers on the floor as well as the roof.”
Clarity is available at
Written by Scott Mortimore