While photographing the pool world championships in Finland, i noticed a funny little pool next to the 50 meter main pool. It was tiny, barely bigger than a bathtub, just a set of stairs leading into a black tiled square. I figured it was a hot tub of some sorts, but when i put my finger in to test how warm the water was, i got stung -it was freezing! Well, not really freezing, obviously, as it was still liquid, but it was very very cold. A sign next to the pool said it was 4 degrees Celsius, which is 39 degrees Fahrenheit, aka f***ing freezing.
Of course i had to try it, so i put in a foot and instantly regretted it. It hurt! But i have a friend in Finland who swim under ice -in her bathing suit- and i was wearing a wetsuit, plus this water was warmer, so i had to go on. I walked in, dipped my head under, froze my sinuses solid and tried to get out in a dignified but hurried fashion. No such luck, by that time my feet had started to cramp and i could barely walk.
After i got out i stood there for a while, trying not to cry and wondering why people would do such a thing, when the most wonderful tingle came over my feet as they started to feel again. Soon the rest of my body followed, feeling all alive and giddy. It was then that i realized this pool was a wonderful opportunity to do a series of portraits of people submerged in 4 degree water. I immediately got back in there to make sure that it really was that shockingly cold, as shock was the expression i wanted to capture, and yes, yes it was, so i hurried out again, limping on feet clinched.
In order to maximize the shock, i asked my fellow freedivers to jump in from the side of the pool, also adding bubbles to the action. It is not often that i have a fairly defined idea of what i’d like to achieve, but with this series, the results were pretty much it:
That’s Marianna, perfectly displaying what we feel down there
and Julian, with a perfect expression and a crown of bubbles
or Oksana, whose lovely smile almost froze over
Laurent nearly froze his tattoos off
but Justine managed an OK sign -quite a few did, actually
in fact, some people were downright and ice-cold rock’n’roll
that last one is Johanna, my friend who swims under ice. She posed several times for me, and never did i get the shock i was hoping for. She was one of the ones who was actually quite serene
just like these
Johanna even blew a bubble ring, so we had to try that as well -with varying degrees of success
That last one is me. As you’ll notice, i was cheating, wearing a wetsuit plus vest. Because i am a massive pussy, that’s why. But on the last day i did man up, a little, if only because this one wouldn’t do it unless i did, which i thought was only fair and extremely unfair at the same time. I have yet to forgive her:
In the end, the best bubbles were a tie between Chris and Dasha
Best pose definitely goes to Dasha, though
When you look at the seasons from a photography perspective (and you apply some pretty broad strokes), to me spring, with its awakening greens and flowers, is about vibrancy, summer, in all its heat, is about saturation, fall, with it’s long light, is about colour temperature, and winter, all stark and white, is about contrast. But this summer i had spring and winter in two consecutive weekends.
Now it’s winter in Australia but i didn’t have to travel quite so far; i drove to Belgium to dive Nemo 33, the world’s second deepest pool. I didn’t just shoot the Magritte-inspired thing there, i also played around a bit, and going over the material, i couldn’t make it work. I had trouble finding the tone, not just musically, but weird things happen to colours when you’re in a deep pool under artificial light. I knew i had some cool shots but i just didn’t know how to process them.
So i put it on the back burner and drove to Cornwall the next weekend. It had just been hit by a storm so the waters were still murky, but i really enjoyed the diving there, especially a place called ‘the crack of life’. Not only is that a very funny name, it is a really cool dive, right in between two big rocks which are overgrown by seaweeds. So there we were, surrounded by green murk and weeds, and of course Tom Waits’ “all the world is green” pops into my head. Sometimes it’s so easy, isn’t it? So that video kinda shot itself:
It was all spring, which got me thinking what season the Nemo video would be. I’d never done a black and white video before, but since i was having such trouble colour correcting the Nemo footage, i figured i’d check what it would look like in monochrome. And once i saw the results, a song formed with it, and the edit suddenly got a lot more manageable:
It is the warmest winter i’ve ever experienced, though, where you can be out in your speedos. But there’s something really delicious about experiencing free fall without a suit on: you can feel it all over your skin.
One of the peculiarities of life is how we often stumble into a profession we turn out to love -my underwater photography career, for example, was born out of the necessity to document my life as an extreme underwater adventurer. Who else could go with me on adventures like deepest superman pants, deepest apple eating, or my world record feet first -the hectofeet? So i started filming them and fell in love with the process and my daytime job was born.
But of course, deep in my heart and in the depth of night, i’m still an explorer of human potential, and since my previous world records have yet to be challenged, i decided to once again take myself to the limit of possibilities and grace with a new challenge. Now, after having lived with a ballerina for a while, it has been my opinion that the most extreme sport of all is ballet. So it occurred to me: “Why not combine the two?” Combine what i do with what is even more extreme? Make it most extremist hyperbolicst?
The challenge was born and the preparation began. I spent months at the Bolshoi, where my natural grace was tweaked and my innate fluidity enhanced. I studied and studied, even slept in the plie. They asked me to stick around and become the male lead, but i was not to be distracted: i was ready to put the ‘balls’ into ballerina.
Now the graceful nature of this project would prevent my from doing my own filming with a bulky camera. Luckily, the second camera person on my Hecto-feet dive, UK freediving champ Georgina Miller, was available to shoot, and she turned out to be quite talented, and managed to capture the full grace and depth of my latest adventure.
Hope you enjoy!
2 months ago today, Nick had his fatal accident at Vertical Blue. It has affected many people profoundly and you can still see ripples of the shockwave in the community. For me, i struggled with a whole complex mixture of emotions; i was there as a cameraman and i’d caught the hole thing on video and in pictures. So not only did i see what happened, i had to review it in order to make sure i had it. Then i had the duty to make it available to the people investigating the incident -these people are my friends, so i’d have to expose my friends to traumatic footage. And i was feeling somehow dirty for having kept filming. The professional part of me knows it was the right thing to do, that it was my job, that the footage will be used to learn from, and that i couldn’t have helped in any other way. But another part of me, the part that gets angry when i see people playing tourist around the scene of an accident, was a little disgusted. You pay your respect by turning away, and instead, i pointed my cameras right at it.
That, combined with the raw trauma of watching someone die surrounded by friends, made it very difficult to do anything with this footage. I knew it was important, and i knew i was not in a good place to judge what to do with it -i wanted to delete it, wash it off me, have nothing to do with it. So i trusted another person to be my moral compass in this matter, and asked William Trubridge what to do. He was my guide through that first couple of days and weeks, and he made sure the right people got access without the footage or Nick’s accident getting exploited. I had my first taste of a bit of a media frenzy, and thanks to Will’s clear guidance, it wasn’t as beastly as i’d feared. As a matter of fact, most contacts were quite understanding in my refusal to share the footage.
But then there was a mountain of other material, 7 days of competition before the accident. Normally i’d do something with that in the week after an event. Usually, i have a vague idea that sort of takes form as i’m working with the material, much in the same way i shoot. But this time, i had nothing but a heart full of grief and a head full of doubts. I kept seeing my friend fading away, i kept wondering if i’d done the right thing, if there had been anything else i could have done. I was very far from being able to create anything. Then a couple of weeks later, on a trip through Belgium on the way to see my family in Holland, i hear a song. It often starts with a song, and this one, ‘Free’ by Rudimental, planted a seed. I made a note of it on my phone, and started listening to the song that night. I know my process, i have to obsess with a song for a bit, so i listened to it over and over again, till i knew what to do.
But then i had to do it, and i knew the video would have to end with Nick. And i didn’t want to. I wasn’t ready to do that yet, not ready to get so intense with his last diving pictures. So i took a lot of time making everything ready, preparing all the images and footage, doing the stuff around the edges, laying some of the groundwork. It wasn’t until i got back to the Bahamas that i had the time and found the peace to really work with it. A couple of dives in Dean’s Blue Hole re-affirmed to me that it was alright to celebrate freediving, celebrate this magical place. Yes Nick died here, but he didn’t die because of this place. Like my father said: “Water is innocent of the temptations that well up from it -it even washes away its own sins.” After that realization, it was just a matter of putting in the days of editing, and this date seemed like a natural point to aim for.
So this might be my most complex video to date, which is slightly ironic, since the thing Nick and i had been planning to do was a very simple one: him pushing an old shopping cart with used freediving material around underwater, making fun of him being ‘the freediving bum’. This video might be a bit too sombre for his tastes, i’m afraid.