Laban André

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André Laban was born on October 19th 1928 in Marseille where he grew up. In 1952, just as he finished his studies as chemical engineer, he hears that Cousteau is looking for and engineer. He shows up. When Cousteau asks him: « What can you do ? », he replies « Nothing, but I fix things and tinker a lot ». He is hired for a trial week. A trial week that lasted 21 years.

 His first dive takes place on the Grand Congloué shipwreck in 1952, alone, by night, with half-filled tanks.    

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His first mission is to invent a waterproof housing for a television camera, for the first live broadcast from the seabed. From 1953 onwards, he is a key craftsman of the French office for underwater research (OFRS), created by Cousteau, and who aims at creating devices to enable the discovery of the underwater world.

Laban conceives the cameras of the Silent World, the first generation of the Cousteau cameras, of which all of the following models are only evolutions. He is present on board Calypso during the main missions in the Persian Gulf, in 1955, for the shooting of the Silent World of which he is one of the main actors. He shares his cabin on board with Louis Malle, who teaches him much about cinema.

In 1957, he becomes director of the OFRS, just when he launches one of his most beautiful creations: the diving saucer SP350, conceived with Jean Mollard, of which he is one of the pilots. He is mission commander in 1964 when the saucer is shipped to California for a demonstration at Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the US Navy.

In 1965, he is the chief of the Precontinent 3 mission, third experience of houses under the sea, and spends three weeks at 100 meter depth with 5 other oceanauts. In 1966, again he is a key crewmember when Cousteau assigns his team to a purely cinematographic mission, for the shooting of the first 12 episodes of the Undersea Odyssey of the Cousteau Society, some of which he will direct himself.

Laban played an important role in Cousteau’s entourage. Like Dumas or Falco, he enjoyed a special status. He was the wise advisor, the lucid voice, the honest accomplice. He explains: “I joined Cousteau-ism as one joins a religion, as one enters a monastery, by abandoning almost everything.” He was the partner for years of creativity. “The first quality of Cousteau was that he was never wrong in his choice of men. When he arrived, a large smile on his thin lips, wrapping his arm around our shoulder, speaking the magic words: “So, old brother?”, we knew he was going to ask us something important. Even after realizing that this was a trick, we followed his steps.”.

A good friend of the Cousteau family, he spoke his mind openly, including to Simone Cousteau, the shepherd of the Calypso, who had the last say on board. In 1973, he is fired by Cousteau, and this comes as a true shock.

After this, he works in different companies, as submarine pilot and senior engineer until the early 80’s, when he opens a restaurant à Saint Antonin Noble Val “The Blue Submarine”.

“Labanus” as his friends call him, is an iconoclast wise man, capable of the most rigorous logic and of the most creative fantasy. He had many interests: painter, photographer, cinema director, player of words, musician and engineer. Since the 1990s, he exposes his underwater paintings at the Marseille film festival and receives, in 1996, the first prize for his movie “Iris and Osiris”. In 2000 he is nominated as president of the jury of this famous gathering. His “Dictionary of small logical words”, published in 2010 is the fruit of the blending of humor and wisdom, which he shares with communicative passion.


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