words & photos :: Krystle Wright
Bobbing around on the surface of jet black waters off Skjervøy, Norway, Kimi Werner and I surrender to the gentle rock of the ocean. Once again, we’ve missed an encounter with the pod of orcas. Typically we would swim energetically back to the Zodiac to set up for another attempt to get the shot, but instead we rest—at one with the rhythmic slosh of the sea.
The short days of the winter months means we are coming up on the last licks of light to shoot on this trip. The challenges of bringing this obsessive pursuit together is becoming all too clear—a specific image that has been haunting me will have to wait. Just as we’re ready to call defeat, birds begin to gather above us and small fish debris floats to the surface—signals of action below. Hastily, we draw a breath and dive into the darkness towards the shoal of herring.
The faith that athletes entrust in me, to be a part of these artistic visions I present them with, continues to pervade my own belief that these wild ideas can be brought to fruition. At our first meeting, Kimi—a woman who competed as a spear fisher and now focuses her time and energy towards free diving ocean exploration, environmental awareness and activism—agreed to join me in the freezing fields of Norway on the spot. A fortunate stroke of serendipity was that she had always been drawn to orcas, having had reoccurring dreams of these whales as a child (a random theme for someone born and raised in Hawaii where ocean life is abundant but certainly does not include the killer whale).
For a project like this, it doesn’t matter how passionate I am about the purpose, or how much time or money I throw at it—I’m not entitled to the shot.
Fast forward a few months and it feels surreal that we are swimming into the depths of the Arctic Sea to fulfill unorthodox dreams of pirouetting with the magnificently powerful black and white beauties of the ocean as they feast on billions of herring. The purity of our intention was to create art to illustrate just how tiny we are as humans in contrast to nature, to evoke emotion and to raise awareness of why we should take care of the ocean and its inhabitants.
The tail whip of an orca slams into a herring ball, displacing thousands of fish like a plate of china smashing into the tiniest shards of white porcelain, as black shadows move through the chaos to feed on the stunned fish. My heart races as I hit the trigger on my water-housing, both from the freezing waters and from witnessing something straight out of an Attenborough documentary. My chest tightens as the last of the oxygen in my lungs fades—time to go back up.
Ten metres from the surface, a bull makes a surprise appearance from the depths and brushes past only a few feet away with immeasurable finesse, sending an underwater surge of energy into us. This rush of energy was the embodiment of what we set out to capture: a reminder of how small we truly are in the presence of these tactile predators. But alas, the frame I built in my mind was unattained.
As light dimmed to darkness, the sinking feeling of knowing I would need to return to fulfil this vision became apparent. The images that haunt you as a photographer become obsessive objectives.
For a project like this, it doesn’t matter how passionate I am about the purpose, or how much time or money I throw at it—I’m not entitled to the shot. How humbling it is to know that a camera in hand holds no true power—nature is always the one calling the shots, interacting when she feels drawn to. Some of these adventurous gambles have delivered reward and recognition, but, more often than not, the pursuit of perfection has failed.
Art is an opportunity to celebrate the beauty of our planet, to see how small we are in the grand scheme of it all, and offer up a glimmer of hope that not all is lost in a time that seems so bleak for our oceans.
Failures and raw experiences inspire evolution as a photographer, keeping me on a path where curiosity reigns supreme over common sense. I often get resistance from having this perspective on life—people question my motives. These individuals seem to value a guaranteed return on investment, be it time, travel or finance. But I continue to err on the opposite side of the spectrum. Like most passionate adventure enthusiasts, I joke to my friends that if I am to go down in flames it will be in spectacular fashion completely entrenched in the unknowns of exploration.
The path to actualizing our dreams is chock-full of ups and downs. We may as well celebrate them all and enjoy the ride, because to ignore our calling is not open for discussion.
To Skjervøy, Norway and the orcas, we will see you again soon. sealegacy.org —ML
Just recently, a story of success, the Norwegian Labour Party recently voted to permanently protect the Lofoten region of Northern Norway from any further oil exploitation. A strong movement created by Sea Legacy was one of the main protagonists in creating awareness of the situation and the plight to save this fragile environment.