Our latest film ‘Jago: A Life Underwater’ has picked up the top prize at the Jackson Hole Film Festival. Produced in conjunction with Underdog films, Jago tells the story of an old Bajau sea nomad I met in Sulawesi’s Togian Islands in 2013.
Through a mixture of interviews and cinematic reenactments, the film charts Pak Rohani’s extraordinary life; learning to dive, losing his son and coming to terms with his own mortality.
Shot entirely in 5K for a 4K master on Red epics, the film also makes use of experimental underwater rigs and aerial photography.
We don’t have a set release date but a sneak peek, courtesy of the festival, is available here:
Last month I was in Socotra shooting a music video. Floating adrift between Yemen and Somalia, it’s not the easiest place to make a film, but if you can negotiate the various obstacles and refrain from reading the travel warnings it makes for a stunning location. We shot on a new Red Epic, I’ve included some screen grabs below. A lot of people have been writing asking if you can pull stills from the video stream now it’s in 6k. And the short answer is: it depends.
Many thanks to Adhem, Johnny and Abdul.
Adhem in the final scene of the film, North Socotra, Yemen
Adhem stares into the fire during the cave sequence, South Socotra, Yemen
A still from a time-lapse sequence in Central Socotra
I recently visited my new sponsor, Cressi, at their head office in Genoa, Italy. Ice cream was eaten, freediving stories were swapped and we shot a short interview where I attempt to articulate what it is I love about the ocean and the work that I do.
Last week I finished making a music video for singer/songwriter Nick Mulvey’s new single Cucurucu. I originally shot the footage in March last year as part of another project, produced by Johnny Langenheim for Vice Magazine. For the original piece check out Blood Sacrifice in Sumba.
The music video is now online and has proved very popular. You can watch it here, via Vevo, along with some behind the scenes images.
A ratu waits in the ocean for the arrival of the Nyale (sea worms). Sumba, Indonesia.
Two young boys and their horses play in the ocean in Nihiwatu, Sumba. Horses play an important role in Sumbanese culture and distinguish Sumba from the rest of Indonesia. Sumba, Indonesia
Last night i gave a talk for Getty Images about the challenges and wonders of working in remote locations. You can see a video of the talk, which includes images and film from Asia, South Pacific, and South America, below:
Cyanide fishing is destroying both unique coral ecosystems and human lives in the Coral Triangle.
Compressor diving, often in conjunction with cyanide fishing, remains a common practice amongst the Bajau Laut despite being unsustainable, illegal and highly dangerous. Young Bajau men, and often children, will routinely dive to depths of sixty metres with air pumped down to them through a hose pipe and a regulator – with no knowledge of the dangers inherent in diving to such depths they often ascend far to quickly resulting in nitrogen build up and the bends. Compressor diving is one of the main causes of unnatural death amongst the Bajau communities I have visited
Driven largely by China’s insatiable appetite for live reef fish, children as young as ten are routinely diving to depths of 30/40 meters, breathing air that is pumped down to them through a hose, and paralyzing fish using a lethal mixture of potassium cyanide.
If the fish have been caught using cyanide they are also injected with tetracycline in order to reduce the mortality rate. The antibiotic can stay in a fish’s system for up to a week. Wakatobi, Indonesia.
The use of cyanide is crippling precious coral ecosystems whilst the associated use of compressors is crippling its practitioners. Decompression sickness (the bends) and compressor-related accidents are commonly cited as being the primary cause of premature death in marine communities throughout the Coral Triangle.
Potassium cyanide is squirted directly at target fish species such as grouper or Napoleon wrasse, paralyzing them and enabling them to be collected alive. The cyanide then gets in to currents and will travel for miles along a reef wall, killing coral and wreaking havoc on marine life.
Ibu Ani looks on as her son, Ramdan, forages the reef for clams. Since Ani’s husband died of the bends whilst compressor diving, she has relied on her son to support her during the months they spend at sea together
Last year I was asked by WWF to produce a series of images looking at the effects of the illegal wildlife trade. In June, I spent some time with an anti-poaching patrol in Gabon. My original aim was to photograph the lives of individuals on the frontlines of the war against wildlife crime, focusing on one of the most charismatic rangers, Soho Jocelyn. I spent time with Soho at his home in Makokou and then followed him into the forest on patrol. One night sitting around the fire we got the chilling news that two rangers had been murdered, just miles away, across the border in Congo.
Eco guards cook dinner on patrol in a logging concession outside Minkebe national park
The increase in clashes between rangers and poachers has left horrifying numbers dead in the past year alone. However some of the most compelling images from the trip reflect a feeling that I had whilst I was there: I don’t think there is a frontline on the war against wildlife crime. The increased frequency of ranger deaths is haunting, but its also an accessible symbol of a much deeper erosion of culture and livelihoods. As Soho Jocelyn kissed his wife and children before leaving for the jungle, I got a real sense of what was at stake. Not just in terms of his safety but the repercussions for his community and its history and shared values.
Soho Jocelyn, an eco guard from Makokou, Gabon, says goodbye to his wife before going on patrol in Menkebe national park. He will be on patrol for two weeks
I grew up in the New Forest, a small stretch of forestland in the south of England. The New Forest is as thick with tales as it is with trees, and at the root of all these stories is the concept of forest law. Much of the old forest law, some of which still survives to this day, curtailed the ability of forest people to gather food in favour of protecting deer populations for the king’s hunting grounds. This inevitably led to an entire canon of stories painting poaching as a romantic, even noble, pursuit. I grew up with legends of the outlaw peasant taking what was rightfully his, outsmarting the crown and its feudal landowners.
But the poaching stories which emerged from Central Africa in 2012 bear no resemblance to the stories of my childhood. The romanticism and communal spirit are gone, and in their place are automatic weapons, bloodshed (both human and animal) and the irreversible damage of social and natural ecosystems. Ultimately the people who lose out aren’t wealthy landowners and caricature baddies, but communities struggling to subsist as criminal groups erode both their communities and resources.
Aurelie Kumbe and Tuburse Mouyamba take me to see an elephant carcass they found outside their village in the Gamba district of Gabon. The tusks are long gone, but bones as large as these are not easily buried
The Baka community, who live in the forests of Gabon, Congo and Cameroon are perhaps as caught up as anyone. There was always tension when I first arrived in a Baka village. Nothing the universal language of silliness and a shared experience skinning a water cobra couldn’t swiftly dissolve, but the Baka have been vilified by environmental groups for the role they play in elephant poaching, and relationships are understandably fraught.
Despite being one of Africa’s most resource rich countries, poverty is widespread in Gabon and a big contributor to poaching. This lady is from a Baka pygmy village near Menkebe. The Baka have been targeted by crime syndicates and recruited as poachers due to their intimate knowledge of the jungle
In many ways the short time I spent with the Baka was the most illustrative of the full effects of wildlife crime. Baka are employed and killed on both sides of the battle, a poacher one day may have no qualms about becoming a ranger the next. It all depends who’s footing the bill. But the recent escalation in commercial poaching has brought more than just the death of a few individuals, it has brought about the disintegration of an entire way of life. Or more accurately, the advent of poaching has served as a catalyst hugely enhancing the effect of other environmental pressures in breaking the bonds the Baka once held with the forest and pushing them into alcoholism, domestic violence and a whole host of associated social problems. I often find in the course of my work that the social cohesion of indigenous groups can be read as a litmus test for environmental issues.
The Baka were originally semi-nomadic subsistence hunters. The majority have now settled in villages as pressure from logging and infrastructure projects has impacted wildlife populations throughout the Congo basin. It’s economics that have pushed the Baka to hunt elephants. Elephants alive steal food and trample crops, whilst dead their tusks are almost worth their weight in gold. It’s ironic in a sense, and also understandably frustrating for the Baka, that they used to revere the elephant and only started ‘poaching’ under pressure from French and German colonial rulers who had an insatiable thirst for ivory. Now their orders are coming from criminal syndicates and terrorist groups. It’s probably hard to tell the difference.