Aw Inspired

Requin soyeux au coucher du soleil (Jardines de la Reina, Cuba) : Les requins soyeux (Carcharhinus falciformis) se rassemblent souvent au bord du tombant continental à Jardines de la Reina, Cuba. Depuis 2013, j'ai photographié ces requins soyeux tous les mois de février, soit le matin, soit l'après-midi. En 2017, cependant, j'ai persuadé l'équipage d'effectuer cette plongée au coucher du soleil. J'ai conceptualisé cette image, et depuis, de nombreux autres photographes ont réussi à capturer une image similaire.

Tireur Michael Aw

When I interview the photographers for our Shooter series, I’ve come to expect a certain uniformity of inspiration. Those of a certain age frequently became enthused about scuba diving through the old black-and-white episodes of Chasse en mer. Des personnes un peu plus jeunes peuvent avoir regardé Le monde sous-marin de Jacques Cousteau as a vicarious portal to ocean adventure. Michael Aw’s story was the first I’d heard from any photographer of a childhood without any experience or fantasy related to the sea.

While growing up in Singapore, Aw was on a path of single-minded dedication to school and ultimately earning a college degree. He was 12 years old before he went to an aquarium and didn’t see a beach until three years later. The ocean survival training of his mandatory military service at age 17 was the first time he put his face below the surface. His early life gave few clues that he would one day become one of the most influential print journalists in destination diving and ocean conservation.

brydes whale feeding
Bryde’s whale feeding (The Wild Coast, Eastern Cape, South Africa): Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni) appear quietly from the deep with a single mission in mind: swim through the bait ball and engulf as many fish as possible. If you are in a whale’s path, you will either end up inside its mouth or tossed away with incredible force. On this particular day I was thrown out of the water twice. Then I learned to position myself at a distance and wait. It took quite a while, but the patience paid dividends with this image.
Mandarinfish threesome (Palau): Following in the footsteps of David Doubilet, in 1997 I went to Palau for a dive cruise on the same vessel he used for a National Geographic feature. Bert Yates, Doubilet’s guide for his Palau shoot, suggested that I work on images of mating mandarinfish. We started the dive just before sunset. Bert was great at spotting and lighting males showing off their dorsal fins to attract willing females. After 30 minutes I got a great shot of a mating pair clear of any obstruction. With some of my 36 frames left, I signaled Bert for one last try. In the next 30 seconds or so, we captured this threesome. When we got out of the water, he told me that it was the first time he had seen a threesome. I smiled at the thought that I might be the first to capture it on film.

Diplômé en économie de l'université de Bristol en Angleterre, Aw s'est lancé dans une carrière de marketing. Pendant les 15 années qui ont suivi, il a travaillé pour quelques grandes agences de publicité et a été affecté à leurs bureaux de Singapour, d'Australie, de Hong Kong et de San Francisco. Ce chapitre de sa vie consacré à l'entreprise lui a permis de bien gagner sa vie, mais avec un travail incessant.

Au bord du burn-out, il s'est tourné vers la plongée sous-marine comme passe-temps pour avoir quelque chose de différent dans sa vie. Il a découvert qu'avec Singapour comme porte d'entrée, il pouvait quitter son travail le jeudi soir, se rendre quelque part en Asie où la plongée était bonne et rentrer chez lui le dimanche soir. Il a fini par ajouter un Nikonos III et un Nikonos V à son kit de voyage et a commencé à prendre ses premières photos sous-marines, qui étaient, comme on pouvait s'y attendre, décevantes. 

Requins sombres se nourrissant d'une boule d'appât en sardine
Dusky sharks feeding on a sardine bait ball (The Wild Coast, Eastern Cape, South Africa): I have been chasing sardine bait balls off the east coast of South Africa every June and July since 2004. In late June 2010 I encountered the mother lode. This mass of sardines reached from the surface down to about 80 feet and was more than 300 feet wide. We found it at about 9 a.m. and left utterly exhausted after seven hours of nonstop shooting. This image is from early in the day before the onslaught of gannets, whales, dolphins and sharks. I positioned myself at the edge of the ball to meet this dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus) emerging from the massive crowd of sardines.
ruban à pois
Ribbonfish (South Misool, Raja Ampat, Indonesia): The polka-dot ribbonfish or deal fish (Desmodema polystictum) is a deep-water fish first discovered in 1897. It was not until 2011 that researchers verified an adult specimen in the Indian Ocean. I found this juvenile during a blackwater dive in September 2018 and was ecstatic to photograph this species alive, especially in its juvenile stage. Since then, more specimens have been photographed in Japan and the Philippines.

Infecté par le virus de la plongée et de la photographie sous-marine, il a vécu un moment décisif dans sa carrière lors d'un séjour de huit mois à Bunaken, sur l'île de Sulawesi du Nord, en Indonésie, alors qu'il était en congé sabbatique. Il a affiné sa photographie sous-marine pour en faire une compétence commercialisable et a produit suffisamment d'images de qualité pour en faire un livre. Alors que la plupart des photographes travaillent dur et longtemps pour développer un corpus d'œuvres susceptibles de faire l'objet d'un livre, Aw a mis à profit l'expérience qu'il avait acquise dans le domaine de l'édition à l'époque où il travaillait dans une agence de publicité pour élaborer un plan d'affaires lui permettant d'auto-publier le livre et de s'occuper lui-même de sa commercialisation.

C'était le bon produit au bon moment, et ses efforts ont fait du livre un succès. Il a vendu suffisamment d'exemplaires aux entreprises locales et au gouvernement indonésien pour atteindre un large public. Le livre a servi de carte de visite à d'autres destinations qui souhaiteraient présenter leurs attractions sous-marines de la même manière. Depuis qu'Aw a publié Sous Bunaken : Un almanach en images en 1993, il a été l'auteur principal ou l'un des principaux contributeurs de 43 autres ouvrages.

Iceberg (Scoresby Sund, Greenland): Icebergs are metaphors for the ocean: We pay attention to the 10 percent we see above water but ignore the 90 percent that we do not see. I saw this iceberg with the fast-eroding mountain glacier in the background during a 2015 expedition to Greenland. The dark, clouded sky adds dimension to the gloomy narrative of our world climate crisis. This is one of my most successful over-under photos.
restes d'icebergs
Iceberg remnants (Scoresby Sund, Greenland): Scoresby Sund on the eastern coast of Greenland is our planet’s longest fjord system. Its main expanse stretches approximately 68 miles before branching into a series of smaller fjords extending further inland. The awe-inspiring Greenland ice sheet meets the innermost tips of the fjords, churning out fresh meltwater and a bountiful supply of colossal icebergs. The icebergs in the back of this image average 100 feet high, and the foreground reveals how little remains of a once-mighty iceberg beneath a warm blue sky.

Once the book’s story of the beauty beneath the sea was readily available, dive shops on the island proliferated. In 1993 two full-time dive resorts were in operation, which increased to 10 in 1995, 15 in 1999 and 25 by the mid-2000s. The growth isn’t directly related to any single publication, but Aw sold a few hundred books to SilkAir, which soon began operating a direct flight from Singapore after recognizing the region’s scuba tourism potential. Easy air access contributed to Bunaken’s success as a dive destination.

Les éditeurs de Le royaume des océans magazine bought a few hundred copies of the Bunaken book and sold them at the annual Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) trade show. This success led to several destination collaborations and Aw’s first foray into dive magazines. As an Asian photographer, he had found it difficult to be accepted by dive magazines in Europe and Asia in the early 1990s, but this U.S. publisher gave him his first big break.

Crocodile américain
American crocodile (Jardines de la Reina, Cuba): The reclusive American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is surprisingly easy to find at Jardines de la Reina, a marine protected area off the southeastern coast of Cuba. In 2013 I started including these crocodiles in my annual sojourn. To get pictures of them in a different light, I persuaded the guides to allow us to shoot them against a sunset. I hope to eventually get an image of the setting sun between the jaws of one of these enigmatic reptiles.
Espèce endémique de labbe
Endemic flasher wrasse (Flasher Beach, Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia): Since my early years of underwater photographic pursuits, I have sought the challenge of shooting flasher wrasses all over Indonesia and the Philippines. In 2009 I learned of a new species recently identified in Triton Bay and the Fak Fak Peninsula in West Papua, Indonesia. I immediately organized a charter to Triton Bay to photograph this endemic species, Paracheilinus nursalim. The best time to shoot is in the late afternoon when the male flashers show off their dorsal fins to attract a potential female partner. Patience and swift shooting in rapid mode are essential for capturing this speedy fish.
Raies manta de récif
Reef manta ray aggregation (Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll, Maldives): I first encountered the aggregation of reef manta rays (Mobula alfredi) at Hanifaru Bay in 2002. After National Geographic featured the events in a 2009 story, I rushed back to Hanifaru before the world descended upon this tiny, no-longer-secret bay. I dived in the middle of a vortex of more than 150 mantas in a feeding frenzy. For this picture, I was at 65 feet and looking up to the surface at the mantas swimming in a merry-go-round.
Phoque léopard
Leopard seal (Astrolabe Island, Antarctic): During a 2010 expedition to the Antarctic, the best day featured a sunny, clear blue sky and several leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) frolicking around a towering iceberg. We spent an hour or so interacting with these iconic Antarctic animals in balmy 35°F water. I remember donning a borrowed drysuit and shooting in shutter-speed-priority mode for the first time.
le ver bobbit mange le poisson-chèvre
Bobbit worm (Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi, Indonesia): After the governor of North Sulawesi commissioned a new book in 2006, I needed some new pictures that no one had seen before. I remembered reading about bobbit worms (Eunice aphroditois) lunging quickly from their burrows in the sand to prey upon unsuspecting butterflyfish and rising high from the seafloor to snatch them in passing. My dive guide helped me find bobbit worms, but we did not know much about their feeding behavior. I thought the best time would be near sunset when fish tend to move more slowly. I selected the biggest worm in the vicinity, positioned myself and steadfastly focused my camera. I waited for 90 minutes on the first evening and 65 minutes on the second. Drowsy fish swam past, but this lazy worm did not strike. On the final night dive, I found the same worm but asked my guide to search for a more active candidate. As he returned despondent, he caused a goatfish to swim into this worm’s path. I pressed the shutter, and it was over in a flash. At five frames per second, I captured this image on the second frame. More than two-thirds of the fish was already pulled inside the burrow by the fifth frame.

Aw a également mis à profit ses compétences en marketing et son expérience pour organiser avec succès des événements liés à la plongée. En 1999, il a conçu un projet dans le cadre duquel lui et cinq autres photographes devaient documenter une journée dans la vie des récifs coralliens des Maldives en passant 24 heures sous l'eau à l'aide de recycleurs semi-fermés. Cette expérience a donné naissance au livre 24 heures sous la mer arc-en-ciel, Maldives : L'almanach en images and a companion television documentary for National Geographic. The project’s success opened the door for the 2003 publication of Récifs les plus riches : Indonésie.

Si les livres ont été la monnaie d'échange de sa carrière, la production d'images pour les livres a également créé une activité lucrative de photographie d'archives. Getty Images le représentait et, à son apogée, il gagnait $80 000 euros par an grâce à la réutilisation de ses photographies. Ce débouché supplémentaire était essentiellement une activité annexe à la production de livres et à l'écriture pour le compte de Plongeur sous-marin et Plongeur au Royaume-Uni, l'entreprise allemande Tauchen et d'autres magazines.

La même année que son projet aux Maldives, M. Aw a lancé une série de projets d'édition à partir de Singapour. Géographie asiatique a été le premier, conçu comme un National Geographic with an exclusively Asian influence. For someone so immersed in the underwater world, however, there weren’t enough opportunities in a general interest magazine to tell stories about diving. So in 2001 he bought an existing dive magazine, Scuba Diver Australasia. Bien que ces deux magazines soient toujours des publications à succès dans leurs domaines respectifs, Aw n'est plus impliqué dans leur production. 

Au lieu de cela, il a créé en 2007 Géographie des océansle magazine qu'il continue de publier. Cette publication trimestrielle à but non lucratif présente des articles sur la conservation des océans et l'environnement. Il permet également de lancer des expéditions, dont une grande tous les cinq ans, qui rassemble jusqu'à 50 participants et se déroule généralement dans une région exotique telle que l'Antarctique. 

As for what’s next, Aw says he has pictures in his mind to execute over the next decade — images in which he sees a personal challenge and a story to tell. He’d like to consider passing on Géographie des océans à une nouvelle équipe de publication et se consacrer davantage à l'exploration des grands fonds marins à l'aide de submersibles.

He’d also like to devote more time to his passion: shark conservation. After a meeting with Peter Benchley on the 25th anniversary of Les dents de la mer et le soutien et l'inspiration de Stan Waterman, David Doubilet et Sylvia Earle, Aw milite depuis longtemps pour l'interdiction de la soupe aux ailerons de requins à Singapour. Ces efforts resteront l'un des engagements de sa vie, et il espère sensibiliser le public à la folie du shark-finning et à la surexploitation de nos ressources marines.

Dauphins communs chargeant dans une boule d'appât 
Common dolphins charging into baitball (The Wild Coast, Eastern Cape, South Africa): These short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) hunt like wolves of the sea by carving out a group of fish from the main shoal and herding it to the surface before charging into the buffet. The gannets, seals, sharks and whales are freeloaders. This image shows the hard-working dolphins escorting the sardines to the surface. Soon sharks will charge in from the left and right, birds will dive from above, and whales will soar up from the deep.
Mérou marbré brun en train de frayer
Grouper spawning 2019 (Fakarava, South Passage, French Polynesia): An annual aggregation of brown-marbled grouper (Epinephelus fuscoguttatus) occurs at Tumakohua Pass (South Pass) in Fakarava, French Polynesia. During this spawning event, a female and several males swiftly rise together in a tight dance up the water column. When you see them dashing upward, you will be too late to get the shot. The secret is to locate a female grouper with a bulging belly. I focused on and tracked this female. Once she started to fidget and rise upward, I began shooting in burst mode. I did not see the spawn when I was shooting this image; it was only in postproduction that I realized I had captured the moment when the female released her eggs.

En savoir plus

See more of Michael Aw’s amazing images in these videos and a galerie de photos bonus.

© . — Q2 2021