By David duChemin
After years of assignment work for humanitarian organizations and my own personal projects in the developing world I began to turn my attention to the natural world, in large part because the worlds of humanitarian and conservation simple cannot be disconnected from each other. The places in which I have seen the greatest human tragedy have also always been the ones with significant environmental destruction. This planet is our home and to destroy it is to destroy ourselves. So for the last 5 years I’ve been photographing bears and landscapes and, most recently the underwater world - specifically larger pelagic creatures.
I made this image on a 10-day dive trip to the Bahamas, to photograph Tiger, Bull, and Greater Hammerheads. After a lifetime of being taught to fear these mindless predators it was a thrill to be with them and learn that they are so much more. They are also under the greatest threat to their existence than ever in the millions of years they’ve been in these oceans, and their survival is critical to our own. Ecosystems depend on a healthy population of apex predators and our over-fishing and random killing has decimated shark populations.
These particular sharks, after all that, are neither Tiger, Bull, nor Hammerhead sharks, but Lemon sharks, though they are sharks all the same. What I wanted to accomplish with this photograph, made at sunset and hanging off the back of the dive deck of our boat until my arms got sore, was something more complex than the usual photographs of sharks expressed in moments of thrashing violence. I wanted in this image, and others in this series, to show more. To show grace, elegance, curiosity, of these animals as much as their power, which is also unavoidably part of who they are. In the final image it’s the relationships between the sharks on the top and the one on bottom, having what feels like a moment with the fish, none of whom seemed remotely threatened by the sharks.
With a pair of fast strobes to either side of my camera, I underexposed the ambient light by several stops, isolating just these 3 sharks and allowing the rest of the busy scene to go dark. The camera angle, slightly upward allowed me to see the reflection and texture of the underside of the water, a view that has always fascinated me, like some thin plane between worlds. The 15mm fisheye allowed me to get really close and still get the sharks in the frame. In underwater photography the more distance you put between your subjects and your lens the more particulates and backscatter show up, so closer is usually better technically, while also giving the image a sense of intimacy or dynamism, which I think this frame has.
The choice to go not only black and white, but darkly so, to really drive my shadows into black, comes partly from the desire to keep my work visually unified - so much of my work is darker these days - but also to supper the mood I wanted to create. The ocean, despite all we think we know of her, is still so much a mystery to us. There’s a trend these days to get as much detail out of the shadows as possible, a trend I find it hard to get on board with. Shadows are great compositional elements, they help isolate, they contribute to mood and mystery. The best storytellers never tell all, they know that by leaving some mystery the imagination of the reader, the watcher, is much more engaged and makes for a stronger experience.
David’s Black Seas Portfolio - http://portfolio.davidduchemin.com/index/G0000_0ndY4Syl60
David’s Blog - http://davidduchemin.com/
David’s Vision Is Better Show - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrCj4BerLCMsHV3QT6OBB_A