The World We Explore- David Doubilet Zeitgeist Americas 2012

Uploaded by zeitgeistminds on 15.10.2012

>>David Doubilet: We go to space, we see the universe and we turn around and look at our
own home and it's all water. It's 70% water. It's the blue planet, the water planet, and
I have spent my life going beneath the surface. In fact, if you think about the surface of
blue water, for the two and a half million years that humans have been on this planet,
we've looked across, across the surface, across through an endless horizon, and what went
on beneath the skin of the sea was out of sight, out of mind, unknown. And as a 12-year-old
child or an eight-year-old child in Adirondack Lake, when I put my head beneath the water,
everything changed. >>Alison Stewart: Tell us where this photograph
is, where it is? >>David Doubilet: In the Cayman Islands in
the North Sound, there's a barrier reef, stingrays come there.
I wanted to make a picture half-in/half-out of the water, a signature image that I have
always worked on. And here we have the boiling clouds of the Caribbean, a stingray gliding
under it on a very hot June afternoon. And the stingray's wing imitates the curve of
the water surface. My partner, my wife, who is a marine biologist
and photographer, Jennifer Hays and I were in the Galapagos during the El Nino episode
from 1997 to 1998. The water warmed up, it went from green to blue, the food for the
sea lion disappeared in the deeper water. Now it's hunting these silver salemas.
It will never get its energy back. It's beautiful, but it was a ballet of starvation.
>>Alison Stewart: You mentioned your wife Jenn, just to kind of give an example of the
kind of life that you two lead. Three days ago we were on East 70th and Fifth Avenue
in New York, talking and we weren't sure if Jenn was going to make it because you had
to make a very serious decision. >>David Doubilet: We -- one of us, either
Jennifer or myself, had to go chase Greenland sharks [indiscernible] on the northern bank
of the Saint Lawrence River for a story that we're working on for Geographic. Like time
and tide, Greenland sharks wait for nobody. >>Alison Stewart: How does your wife's work
as a biologist and how does science play into your decisions in how you make a photo?
>>David Doubilet: Well, almost every picture -- well, to be quite honest, every picture,
every idea, sometimes begins in the shower. [ Laughter ]
>>David Doubilet: Like most everybody else here. Then we decide where we want to go.
And how we want to approach something and the first people we go to are scientists and
then you have to translate that into a visual medium.
>>Alison Stewart: This is a gorgeous picture. >>David Doubilet: Silky sharks in Cuba in
a place called the Gardens of the Queen's, it's an archipelago that is just south, 50
miles south of the southern coast of Cuba, untouched because of the Cold War.
>>Alison Stewart: You mentioned with the first picture that we saw, a signature that you
have of this over/underwater photography. Tell us a little bit about -- that's a great
one. >>David Doubilet: This is under, underwater.
>>Alison Stewart: We will get to over water. >>David Doubilet: The most popular place in
all of our national parks, the most popular beach is a place called Trunk Bay. It's in
the American Virgin Islands in Saint John's. I went to do a picture there, and I discovered
that every step you would attract these tiny pompanette fish that are eating all of the
detritus and everything that you kick up. And I looked at this picture and I had it
above water, and I asked the person that owned the legs if she could get a pedicure to make
it red and that made this image. [ Laughter ]
>>Alison Stewart: Here we are. Okay. The over/under technique. Tell us a little bit practically
how you do this. I think everybody who takes photographs would be interested in that. But
also what you think it tells us about the relationship between terrestrial and underwater.
>>David Doubilet: I love, Alison, I love this relationship. In fact, this is one of the
things that really -- really makes me be an under water photographer and Jennifer for
that matter, too, is that there's a difference between the air of world and land and the
air of water. It's such a difference that we know very, very little about what goes
on beneath. But the skin is molecular, tiny molecular skin is a doorway to most of our
planet. That's what these pictures do. The funny thing about it is we get a lot of -- a
lot of people write, email us and say "You know, you're just making up these pictures.
You're faking them. You're manipulating them. You're Photoshoping them."
And they're not. They're really not. This is the moment. This is it. This is a beautiful
moment. This is in French Polynesia. >>Alison Stewart: The light is very important,
right? >>David Doubilet: You go into a world and
it's dark. So everything has to be lit. What you want to do is not wind up as a paparazzi,
cornering a fish in a dark nightclub and giving it that sort of strobe. You want to think
of yourself as an artiste and strobes float around. Big underwater camera the size of
a microwave, for instance, with two long arms and strobes on either side, you have to pretend
that, yes, you're a studio photographer balancing the light. Most southerly from the world.
>>Alison Stewart: One of the things that you wrote about this underwater air of imagery
is that you wrote, "The bottom line is this: Half and half images are not easy and they
take time and concentration. But they used to be worse. The digital camera has made our
lives easier with instantaneous feedback. Now we know when to quit and chase a school
of fish." So this brings up two issues, the technology
and also when do you know when to stop. >>David Doubilet: Yes.
>>Alison Stewart: You could go on forever, you could explore, keep going and going.
>>David Doubilet: That's the heart of digital photography. You never know when to stop.
Because it always can be improved. You are seeing things instantly. We went down the
middle of the Red Sea a number of years ago, shot nearly 600 rolls of film, didn't see
them. This is in the day of something called film.
[ Laughter ] >>David Doubilet: Didn't see the pictures,
didn't see them for three months. It was photography that I called big casino.
>>Alison Stewart: Your first experiences, when you first started doing this, what did
you hope to accomplish and how has that changed over time as you have become more experienced?
>>David Doubilet: Initially, what attracts any photographer to anything is this sense
of mystery, a sense of being able to make a picture in another world with a pallette
that's unknown, that's wonderful. Every dive was a dive of exploration, which
still continues. What has changed radically is the fact that we may be recording, because
of global climate change as the water warms up and coral reefs all over the world changes
everything from the very basic chemistry of the sea, we may be recording a time and a
place on our planet that's ultimately beautiful, and will ultimately be gone. And that's -- that's
a -- that's the Damocles sword. >>Alison Stewart: We talked about this a lot,
that you stumble on things that are so beautiful and stunning, sometimes hilarious, but you
also find things that are horrifying. So we have a couple of pictures that show just the
difference of things that you find when you go on your explorations. Ugh.
>>David Doubilet: Well, this isn't quite horrifying, this is another moment in time. We're working
on a story on -- national marine sanctuaries, this is in the Florida Keys. We get a call
from the rangers, they say two loggerhead turtles are mating. Now, loggerhead turtle
mating pictures are relatively rare. I always wanted to take them, but taking mating turtle
pictures is a little like bursting into a hotel room and saying, "Oh, go ahead, keep
on doing what you are doing, don't bother with me."
[ Laughter ] >>David Doubilet: So here we have the male
on the top, female on the bottom, very bored. I'm shooting this, again my big bread box
camera. Another turtle comes swimming up, a great, good looking, dark -- like Rudolph
Valentino, dark eyes. And these turtles eat jellyfish, so they can't really see anything.
They are sort of blind like Mr. Magoo. This turtle swims over to me, and it looks in my
eye, looks into the camera, and goes, "Come on honey."
I say through my regulator, I say, "Not me, you fool, go over there." So he went over
there. [ Laughter ]
>>Alison Stewart: That is just -- this picture -- this picture, I could look at it all day.
[ Laughter ] >>Alison Stewart: The next -- the next couple
of pictures are difficult to look at. And -- and that's for a reason. You are making
a beautiful image, but it's very important to you to make sure that you document the
dark side of what's going on with the ocean and with what we're doing to the ocean, what
we're doing to creatures in the ocean. >>David Doubilet: This is a dolphin slaughter
in a place called Futo, a little town 60 miles south of Tokyo. The villagers have driven
3,000 dolphins into the harbor, put a net across them, and are slowly slaughtering them.
The dolphins themselves are not eaten there or even in Tokyo. They go south to [indiscernible]
Kobe. What they do is they pull the nets tighter, and as they pull the nets tighter, I will
show you the pictures -- they cut the carotid artery and the dolphins begin to bleed to
death. When I was making this picture, I was standing on this cement quay, looking out
at the scene, I could feel the cries of the dolphins literally coming up from the soles
of my boots up into my legs and up into my viscera.
>>Alison Stewart: How were you allowed to be there? I can't imagine they were that pleased
with you being there documenting what was going on.
>>David Doubilet: We were working there in Futo Harbor for three months, and the villagers
knew us very well. They trusted us. These pictures were tough. They were pre-cove pictures,
there was a while before they would be published, and they still would be a tough one to publish
right now. Right now they've basically stopped dolphin
harvesting because they've harvested all of the dolphins. Times are changing. Attitudes
are changing, but this is one of the things that humans do to the ocean.
>>Alison Stewart: This might sound like an obvious question, but I'm assuming through
work like this, you hope to have influence. Do you know of any examples where your work
has influenced a situation? >>David Doubilet: Alison, I think that the
most important thing is that pictures have power. I'm a photojournalist, Jennifer and
I are photojournalists in the sea, and what we want to tell you is this other world. To
effect that kind of power, we have to make pictures that are -- that are beautiful and
compelling. What you would think about as conservation
artistry might be something because we have -- what do we have? A millisecond to take
the -- to capture people's vision. Here's another of --
>>Alison Stewart: This is -- this was taken underwater, correct?
>>David Doubilet: This is an underwater picture, the creature is called a nudibranch, they
are snails without shells. They are the most beautiful creature on earth. Divers know about
them; the rest of the world doesn't. They advertise the fact that they are very poisonous,
because they eat poisonous things like hydroids. The longest running advertising campaign in
the world, which is -- this is how it goes, I am beautiful, eat me and you will die.
[ Laughter ] >>David Doubilet: You make a little box -- I
made a little underwater studio. It's this big. A little box and strobes. Everything
else. We took it to the nudibranchs, rather than bringing the nudibranchs to us. So no
nudibranchs were harmed during this story. This one became known as something called
pimp my nudibranch. It became a website. And nudibranchs also have hitchhikers. This is
a little shrimp riding on one of them. >>Alison Stewart: Sometimes in your work,
you take off your journalist hat and you create an environment under water and you -- in this
next picture, probably the most creative use of Spanx ever.
Gentlemen, do you know what Spanx are? Sort of pantyhose, girdles that ladies wear.
>>David Doubilet: You can put the lead weights in them, and a little bit of squid, and it
attracted all of the stingrays around our model. This was for a story on the 2007 Milan
collection that we put underwater. >>Alison Stewart: So this model, to be clear,
has Spanks full of squid. >>David Doubilet: Spanx of squid, yeah.
[ Laughter ] >>Alison Stewart: Was she frightened at all?
>>David Doubilet: No. She loved the stingrays and the stingrays loved her.
>>Alison Stewart: Do you get frightened at all?
>>David Doubilet: We do get frightened. We've had some close calls in our lives. I think
the most dangerous times in the sea are basically are caused our own stupidity and greed. It's
the need for one more picture, one more time, pushing the limits, trying to get these images.
And especially in the digital age, because you see what you've got and you know what
you can get more of. And there's a -- there's a -- there's a certain amount of beauty that
is so hypnotic, like this weedy sea dragon swimming through a kelp forest in Tasmania.
Pushing the button. >>Alison Stewart: I'm trying.
>>David Doubilet: These guys are about this long, they look like wind-up toys. They eat
tiny mice and shrimps. >>Alison Stewart: Can you help me out on the
next one? There we go. >>David Doubilet: The most wonderful of all
sea lions to swim with are Australian sea lions. And they are like -- they are like
the underwater equivalent of golden retrievers, And they come up and they tickle your palms
with their whiskers, and they look deeply into your face and they're terrific. Take
another shot at this next one. [ Laughter ]
>>David Doubilet: This is -- and we're on a little island, a little -- an island called
Hawkins Island, not much bigger than this room. There's a small colony of them. All
of a sudden instead of playing with you, they disappear. And there's a good reason for that
and that's this. >>Alison Stewart: Is there some place that
you wanted to go to explore that you haven't been able to, aside from this shark's mouth?
>>David Doubilet: What I wanted to do was drop the American Express card down this shark's
mouth. [ Laughter ]
>>David Doubilet: This is done -- this is a great white shark incidentally, it's -- it's
made with a camera called a pole camera. The camera is at the end of a pole. You don't
want to put your head and shoulders into a shark's mouth, not a good idea.
>>Alison Stewart: Has there been a place you have not been able to get to?
>>David Doubilet: Oh, God. >>Alison Stewart: That's been so elusive to
you? >>David Doubilet: Everything, you know. One
thing after another. We want to go to Iceland, we want to look into the waters below the
Pantanal in Brazil. We're going to -- going to work later on in a project in the Sargasso
Sea, a world which is going to be protected -- a piece of ocean without fences or land.
And we go from here to New Guinea and then after that we go to -- to Antarctic.
A picture I made in -- some picture -- I love this picture because you can see the breaking
wave, at the edge of the Bahama banks. Sharks in the Bahamas are now protected. As of 2011,
the Bahamas have become a shark sanctuary. For the rest of the world, almost 90% of the
population of sharks has been decimated, for one reason only, that's shark fin soup. And
again, pictures have power. To tell people the grace and the beauty may be a way to protect
them. They are part of this infinite food chain in the ocean. Without them things begin
to change radically. >>Alison Stewart: You had mentioned to me
that a large corporation actually changed their policy.
>>David Doubilet: Like, for instance, Disney -- Walt Disney and Disney World in Hong Kong
will not serve shark fin soup. Singapore is beginning to try to become a city state that's
shark fin soup free. It's a battle. Here's a place that is a dream-like place. It's a
place called Raja Ampat, very eastern -- excuse me, western end of New Guinea. This is a great
school of fish, fishermen just at dusk fishing. And --
>>Alison Stewart: Try to get to as many as we can.
>>David Doubilet: And of course the Great Barrier Reef. Hold out your hand, you know,
like this and pretend it's an infant's hand and you can see that an infant's pinkey nail
as a single coral polyp does all of this. Coral is another continent in our world.
>>Alison Stewart: Another one that you are concerned about as well.
>>David Doubilet: Another one that's radically, radically changing because of global climate
change and ocean acidification. This is not a picture of Nicholson. It's a
sleeping parrot fish in the Great Barrier Reef.
>>Alison Stewart: Nemo. >>David Doubilet: It's Nemo. They are good
parents. The male clownfish is aerating the eggs which are about to hatch within 24 hours.
>>Alison Stewart: A tender picture, too. >>David Doubilet: I swam in two school of
barracuda, I realized that I was being surrounded by them. And they formed a perfect defensive
circle. I went back to the boat, I got the captain of the boat, we both swam back. They
circled her and I dove to the bottom and looked up and here's a circle, a piece of geometry
in a place with no corners and no geometry. They went once, twice, three times around
and then they were gone. >>Alison Stewart: I will ask you our last
question, because I know these images answer it. Why is this important? Why is this work
that you do important? >>David Doubilet: This is our planet. The
engine of our planet. The engine of our planet is the ocean. If I can bring you some pictures
from the ocean, like Jennifer's picture, for instance, of a baby harp seal the most beautiful
creature in the world for 15 days, 14 days, then we can make decisions that will affect
our future and our lives. This is a picture she made of the -- of a
lesson this baby harp seal -- the mother is teaching the baby harp seal to swim. This
is the first time it's been in the water. They have 14 days to learn to swim or they
will drown. And they are like butterballs. They just can't seem to sink. But we were
face-to-face. It was in our face the fact that the climate was changing. For the last
two years on the ice, and in the middle of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the ice has failed
and 100% of the pups drowned. This is because the ice is warmer and warmer and warmer. It
is changing right before our eyes. And yet this is a world that I just absolutely love.
>>Alison Stewart: I encourage you to go to David's website and lose yourself for an afternoon.
It's easy to do. David Doubilet, thank you so much.
[ Applause ]