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.
In Crete last month, the UK static record holder Georgina Miller broke her own record of 6 minutes 20 by 7 seconds. I got to stand by her side and say stuff like “come on”, which she said helped:
And if that wasn’t enough, she also won silver in the depth competition with these three beautiful dives, which i got to film:
Plus she did a perfect tag grab on her no fins dive, which was one of my favourite pictures of the comp
It happens to me almost every time i freedive. Whether it’s in a pool or in a lake or a sea, there usually is one moment where i lose myself in a moment of awe, of marvel, of wonder. I hesitate to use the word ‘wonder’, since my father was a philosopher and therefore i know the magnitude of the word. Wonder is the beginning of philosophy, the ‘that’ of an experience, which comes before the ‘what’ and the ‘why’. Wonder is his word, his world, and i’m not a philosopher, so i feel like a silly tourist in that world, using a word the depth of which i can’t begin to measure. But i’ve read and probably understood what my dad wrote about wonder, i’ve experienced it, and i recognise it in those moments underwater. I’d be more at ease using the word ‘magic’ -though it’d be better without the wand and alohamora associations. Some people would call it spiritual, or maybe god. But wonder seems most accurate, if slightly pretentious.
These are moments when life is more than you could have ever imagined, and you’re absorbed in them so completely that you become one with them. In those moments, there is no identity, no thoughts, just experience. All that there is is what you see, hear, smell or feel. For me, as a visual person, it’s often what i see. And in freediving, it’s often linked to what i feel, the weightlessness, the otherworldliness of it -the combination seems to enhance the wonder. I feel wonder all around, but more so while free diving, and after i sense it, i want to photograph it. I often fail, sometimes i get close enough for me to be happy with it, very rarely do i capture it. Wonder does not seem to lend itself easily to a medium. My father tried his whole life to describe it.
Last winter i had so many moments in the Bahamas where i had to almost pinch myself to make sure i wasn’t dreaming, that i was glad to have put a gopro on my big camera. Big massive moments like swimming with a tiger shark, or hearing whales sing, and tiny little wonders like sand falling through water, all shared with friends. I’m not sure what to do with some of the pictures, but the videos became pretty evident soon on that trip: i heard just the song. A song about wonder. I had tons of material, but luckily, the song is 10 and a half minutes long. I still shy away from that word a little, but to me, this comes close, at times, to the wonder of freediving.
At the same time as when i saw my first tiger shark, we were surrounded by reef sharks. I was very happy to see them, for normally they are quite shy and skittish, and all i’d seen of them this trip so far was vague shapes in the distance. Which is a shame, for they have a lovely shape, all slender and sleek and powerful. If you think i carry on a bit, just check this one out:
But when i had a moment to edit the video, i caught myself on a media stereotype: i wanted edgy rock music, something dangerous and high octane. You know, the usual shit they put on TV when it comes to sharks, all teeth and rapid movement and danger danger danger! But then i thought of the reality of those moments with the sharks. At no point did i ever feel danger danger danger, all i felt was awe and joy and peace. And mind you, this was in the midst of them eating -we were with a fishing boat and the fishing and bait had brought them up. So they were chomping away and it was none of this ‘ooh, watch out, feeding frenzy’ nonsense, they were still trying to keep out of our way. There might have been some agitation on display, but hey, wouldn’t you be a bit cross if a bear turned up at your buffet?
So i decided against rock music, against perpetuating the stereotype. Instead, i edited it to this slow, dreamy piece by Arvo Pärt called ‘Spiegel I’m Spiegel’ and because i shot at 48 frames a second anyway, i slowed it right down. No frenzy, no danger, just lovely beautiful moving predators being glorious.
Also not yet part of popular opinion, sharks are not just beautiful and peaceful, they also need protection, especially when they come near Australia. If you have a moment, please help their cause:
William Trubridge holds the world record for diving without fins. The other day he was training in Dean’s Blue Hole, and there was something about the combination of really good visibility, lovely light and his immaculate technique that made me forego my training and film him instead -once again affirming i’m more cameraman than freediver. I didn’t have any ideas on what to do with the footage until i stumbled upon this hypnotic music by Nils Frahm; listening to it, i immediately visualized William’s footage.
It’s rare for new footage and new music to find each other in my mind so quickly after each other. Usually, i either already know the tune i want and sort of shoot to that, or i look at the footage and realize the tune i’d like with it. New tunes come to me much later, sometimes months after i’ve gotten the material. This tune came my way literally the day after i shot the footage. I often feel very lucky in this place -how could i not, it’s paradise- but at times it feels like it’s almost more than luck. It feels serendipitous. This is one of my more serendipitous movies.
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.