23 Dec 2015: Brian Skerry, an underwater photojournalist who shoots for ‘National Geographic’, is in town to talk about his life beneath the waves
While you were perfecting that Double Windsor on your tie or applying the final touches of eyeliner this morning, there’s a good chance that Brian Skerry was swimming among sharks. As one of the world’s most renowned underwater photojournalists, the 53-year-old has clocked over 10,000 hours taking images of marine wildlife, often on assignment for National Geographic magazine.
Skerry’s fascination with the sea began at a young age. ‘I remember going to the beach as a child in New England [in America], where I lived, and looking at the waves and wondering about the animals that were down there,’ he recalls. ‘I very much wanted to explore and solve some of those mysteries for myself.’ And he did.
He learnt how to scuba dive at 15, and picked up photography a year later. He naturally combined those great loves and, more than two decades after he first released a camera shutter, he finally achieved his dream to shoot for National Geographic.
Through his award-winning images, Skerry invites viewers into a stunning, yet silent, world of colourful reefs and gentle giants. Like one of his most recognisable shots: it depicts his assistant at the bottom of the sea floor around the Sub-Antarctic region of New Zealand, dwarfed by the hulking presence of a Southern Right Whale.
But the subjects of his photographs are not always so pretty – as a journalist, he has to uncover the darker side of the depths and ‘think like a conflict photographer’. Whether it’s sharks that are stripped of their fins, manta rays being cut up or trawl nets devastating the bottom of the ocean, disturbing scenes are as part of his job as capturing magical moments. ‘I’m going out and taking pictures that are not photos that I necessarily want to make, but that I feel need to be made,’ Skerry says.
These are among the issues that the photographer hopes to address in his upcoming talk here as part of the National Geographic Live series. But he reassures us that it won’t be all doom and gloom: ‘We’re at a moment in time when we know the problems that we didn’t know before. I think we’ll be in a much better place ten years from now, but it does require us to see, and it does require us to act. And hopefully that will continue.’