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:
Yesterday i met my first Tiger shark. I’d swam with hammerheads, white tips, black tips, grays, nurse and reef sharks before, but never with a tiger. I love all sharks for lots of reasons, one being very superficial and photography related, namely the way their skin plays with light, but tigers are particularly beautiful, with a strong body shape, and they have a wonderful pattern. I was very much hoping to see one in real life, preferably with a camera. So as we were playing with some reef sharks yesterday, William makes a noise and a gesture to indicate there’s something behind me. I turn and there it is, my tiger baptist. It comes directly at me to see what i’m made of:
and part of me gets slightly nervous; a combination between something like meeting an idol and something more basic face-to-face with a predator larger than yourself. But my instinct tells me there is no aggression in his behavior, just curiosity, and i stand my ground, or eh, float my water, as it were. The tiger then turns to give me a sideway glance:
It is a real shame these regal creatures are being hunted and slaughtered. Please help support the cause of the sharks:
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.
Happy new year, i hope 2014 brings you interesting and beautiful trips
He might not have made this dive today, but on the way down Nic Mevoli was looking stylish and strong -for a freediving hobo.
This week it’s one in Dean’s Blue Hole, for i’ll be back there in a couple of days to cover Suunto Vertical Blue 2013. This is my mate Brian Pucella, champion spearfisher, freedive instructor, surfer, madman. The morning we took this picture was the day after a bit of a party, so there was a touch of hang-over to aid our breath hold. I figured we’d be lucky to go down to the ledge at around 15 meters, make a few shots, go back up, seeing the state we were in. But Brian’s a professional -or mad- and sat there for a long time, posing and giving me the opportunity to line things up -and get seriously out of breath.
This might be my picture of the year -i can’t ask to get more lucky than this. It is Tomoka Fukuda being her usual ridiculously graceful self. It was on a day when there was a sort of cloud of hazy visibility at the surface, but below 12 meters everything was clear, so i asked her to go down to just below the cloud and hang there, make the most of the combination of diffused light and clarity. She did the rest.